A new study shows the central importance of education in getting ahead in our country today.
In today's knowledge-driven economy, advanced education is essential. Plus, the economic returns on an advanced degree and the penalties for lack of it keep increasing.
According to the study, "Education and Economic Mobility," by Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins, the inflation-adjusted median family income for adults ages 30-39 with a graduate degree was 80 percent higher in 2006 than in 1964. For those with a four-year college degree, almost 60 percent higher. But incomes for those with a high-school education or less have remained virtually unchanged over the same period.
Stated otherwise, the gap in real family income between adults with a graduate degree and those with only a high-school diploma is four times greater today than 40 years ago.
The good news is that upward mobility is available to those willing to pursue and complete higher education.
This study, part of a broader initiative called the Economic Mobility Project, shows that only 16 percent of those coming from homes earning in the nation's bottom fifth income ranking remained at this level if they got a college degree. Forty-two percent moved up to earning among the nation's top two-fifths.
However, 45 percent of those without a college degree with parents earning in the bottom fifth remained at this level.
Given that most everyone's economic future is critically hinged to getting an advanced education, it's logical to ask why anyone who cared about earning potential would forgo this.
According to Haskins, "the greatest single influence on school achievement is family background."
There's a destructive circle that runs likes this. The best way to earn more than your low-income-earning parents is to complete higher education. And the most likely predictor that an individual will not get this education is that he or she comes from a low-income family.
According to studies done at Harvard and at the University of Wisconsin, the enrollment of students from poor families in four-year colleges is about a third that of students from wealthier families.
Furthermore, students from low-income families are far less likely to graduate.
Per the Wisconsin study, as reported by Haskins: "Less than 6 percent of students from the bottom income quartile, as compared with over 42 percent of students from the top quartile, actually graduated from college."
With all the flap about job losses and earning gaps, there should be less discussion about sealing ourselves off from international competition and looking for scapegoats and more focus on the real problem -- educating our own population.
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