Commentary: Higher Education Is Working

Laura L. Anglin, president, CICU

My father was a first generation American, and the first in his family to earn a college degree, which he did while raising a young family and working full-time. As the first in his family to earn a college degree, his experience with higher education profoundly affected how my brothers and I were raised, and how the current generation of our family is now being raised.

In our family, a college degree is no longer an exception, but it is a rule. Dad made sure of that.

Across the country, many -- from high school seniors sitting at the kitchen table with their parents to workers kept from new job options because of a lack of skills and knowledge -- are deciding whether and where to pursue a college education. This decision will set their courses, and that of their families.

Each additional level of education from high school and beyond brings with it greater economic security. Over the course of an individual's lifetime, a college degree is arguably one of the best investments a person can make, in terms of higher earnings, better quality jobs, greater benefits such as health insurance -- and lower unemployment. I share this compelling story with policymakers in Washington, and closer to home in the State of New York.

Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, in the period from January to September 2012, the average unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree or higher was 4.1 percent. By comparison, 7.2 percent of those with an associate's degree or some college were unemployed, with rates rising to 8.4 percent for high school graduates with no college, and 12.5 percent for those with less than a high school diploma (1).

In 2010, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher, averaged more than $78,000 per year; workers with an associate's degree earned approximately $49,000 per year; and those without a high school diploma averaged approximately $29,000 per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2).

At the same time, by 2018, six in 10 American jobs (63 percent) will require some form of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (3). The center projects the nation's employers will need 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees. This makes higher education equally important to economic development in terms of ensuring that the workforce is prepared for the fastest growing and new jobs.

Of the ten fastest growing major occupational groups, seven require some type of postsecondary degree. The two sectors projected to add the most jobs in coming decade are healthcare and social assistance (projected growth of 5.6 million positions) and professional and business services (anticipated to grow by 3.8 million) (4). Healthcare-related fields account for one-third of the projected fastest growing occupations (5). In my home state of New York alone, projections show that nearly 300,000 new healthcare and social service jobs will be added between 2010 and 2020 (6).

Nationally, associate's degree occupations are expected to grow by 18 percent while occupations classified as needing a master's degree are projected to rise by nearly 22 percent, and those requiring a doctoral or professional degree by 20 percent (7).

Beyond the economic benefits, higher education prepares students to be responsible citizens and to engage with the world around them. On the whole, college graduates volunteer more, vote more often, and participate more in their communities (8).

Getting to the win-win that comes from increasing the number of college-educated individuals in the United States will take a renewed commitment to an historical partnership. Thanks to a unique combination of federal, state, philanthropic and college-based student aid programs, millions of students have become the first in their families to complete college, just like my father. These investments have benefited all Americans with the creation of new technologies, products and industries; greater civic engagement; and less reliance on the commonweal.

The current network of student aid programs owes its strength to the longstanding commitment of policy makers from all political parties. Since the inception of the Pell Grant and federal student loan programs, the college-going rate for low-income students has increased dramatically. Through supplemental federal incentive programs such as Federal Work-Study, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Perkins Loans, a unique public-private partnership has been built among the federal government, states and colleges to leverage additional resources to help students to access and complete a higher education that best serves their needs. Even in the face of budget de?cits, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders supported New York's college students by investing in student aid programs such as the Tuition Assistance Program, the Higher Education Opportunity Program and others.

Collectively, American taxpayers support higher education with investments in three major areas: student aid, specific tax deductions and credits, and research funding. Compared to two decades ago, support in these areas has expanded greatly. However, relatively recently, we have started to see contraction in the nation's investment in higher education, a concerning prospect. No matter who wins in next month's elections, we need to recharge support of higher education at the federal and state levels so students can prepare themselves. Our nation's job prospects, and the course of the lives of countless families, depend upon it.

1 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; seasonally adjusted employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment
2 U.S. Census Bureau; full-time, year-round workers 25 years old and over as of March of the following year; average earnings for males and females based on mean earnings in 2010; workers without a high school diploma are those who attended high school and left prior to receiving a diploma
3 Help Wanted: Projecting Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce,, accessed October 3, 2012
4 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Table 2: Employment by major industry sector, 2000, 2010 and projected 2020, as of February 1, 2012
5 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Table 5: Employment by major occupational group, 2010 and projected 2020, as of February 1, 2012
6 New York Works Task Force: The September Report 2012, Navigant Capital Advisors,, accessed October 9, 2012
7 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Table 9: Employment and total job openings by education, work experience, and on-the-job training category, 2010 and projected 2020, as of February 1, 2012
8 Higher Education Research Institute, College Student Longitudinal Survey, 2007-08; “Five Ways Ed Ways,” The College Board,, accessed October 10, 2012