The Value of Higher Education
By Michael Masterson
It’s more important than ever to have a college education. But the best thing is to have a graduate degree. Here’s why…
According to a Harvard University study, employers are paying college graduates 75 percent more than high school grads. Twenty-five years ago, they were paying only 40 percent more.
That’s good news for anyone who has finished college. Bad news for anyone who hasn’t. People with graduate school degrees have done even better.
That doesn’t surprise me. Education is pretty bad in America. It was much better 100 years ago. Today, a high-school degree doesn’t even guarantee that you are literate. And you can get a bachelor’s degree with huge gaps in what you know - without having read Shakespeare or mastered algebra or learned to speak a foreign language, for instance.
Getting a college degree today is like getting a high-school degree in 1890. Getting a master’s degree today is like getting a bachelor’s degree in 1950.
At the turn of the 20th century, the average American had only eight years of formal schooling. By 1930, this figure was up to about 11 years and today it is 14 years (a high-school diploma plus two years of college).
Although the general trend is up, "the quality and quantity of educated workers isn’t growing nearly as fast as it did in the past nor as fast as it needs to if the fruits of today’s prosperity are to be widely shared." So says David Wessel, writing for The Wall Street Journal. The U.S. ranks well, but not at the top of the list of countries that have seen an increase in higher education. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that six countries have equaled us and six have surpassed us.
Income is up for college grads, but only on a relative basis. If you take inflation into account, the increase in income that college graduates have enjoyed in recent years has not quite kept up with inflation. This is not true for people with graduate degrees.
That’s one of the reasons why, when I’m asked, I recommend that young people stay in school or go back to school at night till they have a master’s degree. Neither of my two older sons has done that yet. I hope they do.
My third son is thinking of attending the University of Denver, which has an interesting five-year degree that I like: four years of liberal arts education and then a master’s degree in business.
That’s a combination I’d recommend to anyone who wants to be optimally competitive in today’s economy. Get your bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, because that is the best way to achieve the basic skills: reading well, writing well, speaking well, and thinking well. And then get a master’s degree in business so you don’t have to play catch-up, like I did, when you get serious about a career.