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College degrees still pay big dividends for high school graduates

Texas Compression: A series examining the high cost of high growth in North Texas.

The pandemic has disrupted higher education, halting Texas’ march toward a more skilled workforce of the future.

At Dallas College, a major educational gateway for local high school graduates, fall enrollment for 18- to 21-year-olds declined by 7,000 students from 2019 to 2021, a drop of more than 25%.

During the same period, total statewide enrollment fell by 86,500 at community and state colleges, even as four-year universities exceeded their pre-pandemic enrollment levels.

Blame the drop in community college participation for COVID-19, at least initially. But recently, it’s more about the booming job market with higher starting salaries attracting more high school graduates.

“The biggest problem right now is the availability of entry-level jobs that pay $15, $16, $17 an hour or more,” said Harrison Keller, Texas Commissioner of Higher Education. “We have a significant number of students who have chosen to work and put their study plans on hold. But it creates vulnerability for them and their families.

About 4 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits during the pandemic, he said, and only about 3% had a bachelor’s degree compared to about 70% with a high school diploma. Last month, the unemployment rate for high school graduates was more than twice that of college graduates.

“The first people to lose their jobs are those who don’t have the skills and credentials,” Keller said. “There is a striking correlation between unemployment and educational attainment, and this has been amplified by the pandemic.”

The result is that post-secondary education, whether it’s a six-month certificate course or a multi-year diploma program, remains more valuable than ever.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the state could create 1.4 million jobs by closing the gap between the skills and credentials most residents have today and the skills needed for new positions.

“The economy is moving faster than expected in the direction of higher skills and more credentials,” Keller said.

Dallas County Promise, a program to help students from economically disadvantaged schools complete college, also saw a drop in college enrollment. The program includes a coalition of school districts, colleges, employers and more, and more than 21,000 seniors are eligible.

In the fall of 2019, 60% of these students pursued a two- or four-year degree, as they had committed to, depending on the program. In 2021, the share was 52%.

Many young people have gone to work to support their families during the pandemic, said Katrina James, executive director of Dallas County Promise. At the same time, colleges were converting to virtual learning, which failed to engage many students.

“A group of young people now know what it’s like to have a regular salary, and they may not understand how much more they can earn by getting a degree,” James said. “It’s hard to make a convincing case for why they should pass up pay now for bigger pay later.”

The key, she said, is to explain the return on investment, because education can have a high return. Dallas College, for example, said investing time and money in an associate’s degree would generate $900,000 over a 40-year professional career. A certificate program can be worth more than $700,000, the school said.

Among 25- to 35-year-olds, those with a bachelor’s degree are twice as likely to have a good job as those with a high school diploma, researchers at Georgetown University said.

“Education has become the defining factor in access to good jobs – and the cornerstone of unequal opportunity,” said the Georgetown report, released on Thursday.

The report defines good jobs as paying at least $35,000 a year, and those in the study have a median salary of $57,000. The vast majority of jobs include health benefits, and many have employer contributions to pension plans.

Among those aged 25 to 35, 72% of college graduates had a good job compared to 32% of high school graduates. The disparities are even more pronounced for women and people of color; among Hispanic and black women with a high school diploma, less than 20% have good jobs, according to the study.

Still, researchers aren’t surprised that recent graduates are passing on more education, at least for now.

“People who attend community college tend to be oriented to local job markets, and when those markets are hiring — and wages are rising — many will take the job,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and membership. “But when you say you don’t need to go to college, you’re going against the grain.”

By 2031, he said, only 20% of high school graduates will have good jobs, and the need for additional training – a certificate or diploma – will be even greater.

“Most human beings don’t meet the halfway point,” Carnevale said. “They are waiting to see if it comes to them. Maybe they will be part of the 20% who will eventually succeed with a high school diploma.

Of note, total enrollment at four-year colleges statewide has already surpassed the 2019 mark. The number of 18- to 21-year-olds has also increased at larger schools. local authorities: University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at Arlington and University of North Texas at Denton.

How to explain the continuous growth of this segment of higher education?

“They’re privileged and they go for the brass ring, which is the four-year degree,” Carnevale said.

How would he advise a recent high school graduate who wanted to skip college to take an entry-level job?

“Is there a way to have both?” said Carnevale. “Go find an employer who offers academic help, and many do.”

He cited Starbucks, which offers to cover all tuition for a bachelor’s degree program at Arizona State University, and McDonald’s, which pays up to $2,500 a year for crew member tuition. .

“It’s wonderful that more employers are offering to pay for college, but that’s another thing to deal with,” said Dallas County Promise’s James.

How long do students have to work before getting the allowance? Is aid dependent on achieving a certain grade point average? How long will graduation be delayed by working a lot?

“It’s not an easy equation or formula, and there’s no easy answer,” James said. “Today’s youth face a very difficult choice of giving up income now for more income later.”

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