The case for college education
The most reliable public investment we can make to sustain economic prosperity is education. We need a commitment from leadership–both public and private–to make the development of an educated workforce a priority of economic policy.
Increasing college attainment reliably leads to greater personal income. While Americans with four-year degrees earn an average of $58,292 annually, those with some college or a two-year degree average annual earnings of $38,220. For those with only a high school degree, average annual earnings drop to $33,176, and Americans with less education than that earn only $23,348.
One of the most pressing challenges our nation faces is preparing a college-educated workforce. It is estimated that more than 70% of jobs in Colorado require some form of college education, but today only 40% of Americans earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree by age 27. A recent Georgetown study highlighted that Americans who haven’t earned a college degree or credential are 55% more likely to be unemployed, and the gap in lifetime earnings between a high school graduate and a four-year degree holder is edging close to a million dollars.
The data is clear: postsecondary education is a centerpiece strategy for improving our labor market. Education is a stronger predictor of economic success today than ever before. That’s true for individuals, for private businesses, for communities, and for metropolitan economies. The better educated you are, the more likely you are to be prosperous in a knowledge-based economy.
Not only do well-paid and fast-growing technology jobs go disproportionately to the better educated, but better educated workers tend to be more adaptable and more innovative, which better prepares them to cope with a changing economy. The policy lessons for community leaders are clear: a successful economy depends on doing a great job of educating your population, starting with your children, and also building a community that smart people will choose to live in.
Colorado enjoys one of the highest reputations for higher learning, and one of the most educated populations of any state (because we’ve been really, really good at attracting talent to move to our state). And, yet, Colorado is among the worst states for public funding of higher education and for local kids going to college.
The Atlantic magazine called it the “Colorado Paradox.” Summarized, this means educators and state officials need to figure out how to help these students graduate from high school and succeed in college, or fewer of the young people born in Colorado will find jobs there as adults.
Good news – we are uniquely positioned to meaningfully address this to provide college access to students, to help our communities grow, and to help our businesses succeed.
We are fortunate locally to have Colorado Mountain College (CMC) to help bridge this gap. CMC ranked top 20 in United States for student success by CNN/Money and the Aspen Institute, their bachelor’s degrees are among the country’s most affordable, and they are one of nine institutions in the nation to receive the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Award.
College educated adults are more likely to volunteer, vote and participate in initiatives to better their community. Higher education doesn’t just benefit the individual – it can help elevate the entire community. A college degree is still considered to be a private good. It is not. Having more college degree holders helps us all. The sooner we recognize that, the sooner we will ensure our consistent economic growth.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com