A College education has never been more expensive or more necessary than it is right now. Despite a tightening job market, the US Department of Education has helped education become more accessible.
According to Kathleen Porter in her treatise on the value of a college degree, there are clear monetary advantages to holding a college degree. Census Bureau data shows that over an adult’s working life, high school graduates earn an average of $1.2 million; associate’s degree holders earn about $1.6 million; and bachelor’s degree holders earn about $2.1 million. Putting college costs in perspective, the $8 thousand to $10 thousand cost of each year of college pales against the hundreds of thousands earned later in life.
Porter concludes, “While it is clear that investment in a college degree, especially for those students in the lowest income brackets, is a financial burden, the long-term benefits to individuals as well as to society at large, appear to far outweigh the costs.”
The burden that Porter speaks of can be serious stuff to a family of four earning just above the poverty line. Tuition rates have nearly doubled over the past decade, while real economic growth has only increased by about 30 percent. The job market has tightened significantly over the past few years leading many young adults to choose their immediately available earning power over an unclear future improvement in their job prospects.
To help combat this tendency, government agencies and private organizations have stepped up their efforts to make college education more accessible to the public.
The U.S. Department of Education is helping more students afford college by funding more Pell Grants, increasing awareness of federal financial aid programs and creating the new Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent Grants.
Pell Grant funding has been increased by nearly 50 percent over the past five years with a proposal to more than triple the program’s size in FY 2007. More creative use of both targeted and open financial assistance programs in conjunction with scholarships and grants has led to a greater number of lower income students gaining access to colleges. Two new low-income targeted Grant programs created in February 2006 intend to reward academic excellence and promote studies in critical areas of the U.S. economy.
In all, the U.S. Department of Education expects to increase the number of assisted students four-fold in the next year. While these programs target low-income students, the system has not completely forgotten the middle class student that doesn’t qualify for much of this assistance.
For these students there are multitudes of programs ranging from simple academic scholarships to career specific grants as well as intern and sponsorship programs that are specific to a class, group or occupation.
Since many of these programs are small and unique, it is best to get some assistance in searching them out. Your student financial assistance officer can help with many local programs but don’t stop there. Many occupational and professional organizations have internal programs that are not advertised to outside agencies.
Want to be a stock broker? Check with their professional organization for programs available. Want to be a cop? There are several systems to assist you through both state and national policing organizations. Going into health services or nursing? Scholarships, grants and graduated internships are available. If you don’t know the name of the professional organization, find someone doing the job and ask! Most of these systems require some kind of investment on your part, either in work performed or in a promise to serve. All are worth the time and effort.
Even if you own your own business or a well established family business, life happens. Economic trends change. Stock Markets collapse. Twin towers fall. Businesses fail. That degree you didn’t need when you were twenty, now becomes the critical edge between you and your next job application or interview.
More and more industries are requiring higher education for their lower tier applicants. Degree requirements are not only used as qualifiers, many companies use them as gate keepers as well. Companies with large work forces and good pay are inundated with applications for each job opening posted. Requiring various degrees in the application process reduces the paper volume that the Human Resources departments have to shuffle before the interviews and real hiring begins.
The health services field is one of the best examples of the use of degrees as gate keepers. Many of the jobs listed in this field require little more than common sense and integrity. Yet, demands for an Associates Degree or 60 hours of post-secondary education abound in listings for jobs that once didn’t even require a high school diploma or equivalent.
On the other end of the spectrum are police agencies. According to Kevin Johnson in USA today, law enforcement officials want and need to demand higher levels of education in their hiring processes. Studies show that better educated recruits make better in-service officers. But agencies find it difficult to demand degrees in a tight recruiting environment. Instead most agencies list education and experience options equivalent to degrees. These agencies almost universally award degree holders with higher pay or benefit packages, however.
So education is expensive, difficult and takes some time to finish. With the right help, though you will make it through.