Both graduates from four-year colleges and those who did not attend college believe that, on average, a bachelor's degree makes a difference of $20,000 in yearly earnings, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey on whether college is worth the cost. U.S. Census Bureau data shows these estimates are pretty accurate--the median earning gap between a high school grad and a college grad in 2010 was $19,500.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that college pays off, reporting that as the level of education increases, earnings increase and the unemployment rate decreases. Workers with high school diplomas earned 2010 median weekly wages of $626. Those with associate degrees earned 22 percent more; bachelor's degree holders netted 66 percent more; and workers with master's degrees earned more than twice as much as those with high school diplomas.
By 2018, research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) predicts the U.S. will need 22 million new college degree holders to fill available jobs. The CEW predicts we will miss the mark by at least 3 million post-secondary degrees, associate or higher. Why? The percentage of Americans who have a post-secondary degree has remained relatively unchanged for the last 40 years, says the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to positive post-secondary educational outcomes.
High cost of education: One major problem
If education does pay off and the country desperately needs an educated workforce, what seems to be the problem? Cost, says the Pew survey; in the 18 to 34 age group, two-thirds of those not attending college identified having to support a family as the main reason, with 48 percent saying they can't afford to go to college.
Between 1985 and 2010, inflation in the U.S. increased by 107.05 percent while college tuition increased by 466.8 percent, according to Gordon H. Wadsworth, author of Cost Effective College. How are students paying for education? They take out student education loans--to the tune of nearly $1 trillion nationally, according to an MSNBC article in December 2010.
Online college education: A viable solution
"Online education presents a financially viable solution to increasing access to postsecondary education" reports the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College. According to the report, online education can help improve post-secondary education in three main ways:
- Reduce costs. Schools should exploit technology to reduce costs instead of building and maintaining larger campus facilities as enrollments rise and state and federal funding for education ends up on the chopping block.
- Expand access. Students who live in remote areas, military service members and students with job and family obligations can access the online college education they want wherever and whenever it's convenient for them.
- Improve education. Innovative approaches to online education have the potential to "improve learning outcomes by individualizing learning in a manner that overcomes the shortcomings of traditional classrooms." For those programs that require a campus component such as an internship or clinical placement, many online schools offer hybrid and blended programs. Blended programs may also appeal to those students who prefer to combine online education with the campus experience.
According to a 2009 report by The Sloan Consortium, "online enrollments have continued to grow at rates far in excess of the total higher education student population, with the most recent data demonstrating no signs of slowing." Look into the opportunities available to you through the online college education revolution.