NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Diploma Only One Factor In Success

December 18, 1998

The common wisdom has it that high lifetime incomes are reserved only for those who have a college degree. While it is true college graduates on average earn 76 percent more per year than those with only a high school degree, Hudson Institute research director Edwin Rubenstein thinks the college-to-riches debate has been miscast.

He contends that for most students, sky-high college tuitions are buying "no economic advantage whatsoever."

Here are some of his thoughts:

  • College graduates tend to come from higher socioeconomic levels, are more highly motivated and probably have higher IQs than non-graduates -- factors which influence incomes, but are not the results of college attendance.
  • Many college graduates get poor high school educations and spend their time in college trying to make up for them -- as evidenced by the fact that about 30 percent of all incoming college freshmen are placed in at least one remedial course.
  • When they graduate, many of them are still functionally illiterate and they take jobs that had previously gone to high school graduates -- making the low wages that go with such jobs.
  • Meanwhile, people with near-worthless high school diplomas and no college are being pushed out of the market.

In 1995, Rubenstein says, about 40 percent of people with some education worked at jobs requiring high school skills.

Rubenstein counsels mediocre students to forgo their four years of college and spend that time instead in on-the-job training -- earning money while learning skills. He criticizes student financial aid programs for encouraging unprepared high school graduates to seek a college degree.

Source: Perspective, "Learn More to Earn More?" Investor's Business Daily, December 18, 1998.


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