First things first, because I know you're thinking "Show me the money." The lifetime income of families headed by individuals with a bachelor's degree will be about $1.6 million more than the incomes of families headed by those with a high-school diploma, according to the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter. The U.S. Census Bureau tells us that in 1999, average income for a male age 25 or over who holds a bachelor's degree was about $61,000, compared to about $32,000 for a male with a high-school diploma -- so the college graduate's income was about $29,000 more annually than the high-school grad's. And incomes of those with only a high-school education are sinking steadily lower.
Now, unfortunately, women still make less money than men do, but the news for females who choose higher education is truly phenomenal: In a 1997 study, young women who had completed a bachelor's degree or higher earned 91 percent more than young women with no more than a high-school diploma or GED.
A college education is an extraordinarily profitable investment. Every dollar spent on a young man's college education produces $34.85 in increased lifetime income. Any Wall Street stockbroker would envy that kind of investment yield -- especially these days. You say you can't afford to go to college? The Postsecondary Education Opportunity Research Letter says you can't afford not to.
College may be expensive, but the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one. The income differential empowers you to make choices that enrich your life.
Unlike most purchases, a college education appreciates in value instead of depreciating. And don't forget that there are ways to get around the high cost - scholarships, financial aid, community colleges, and emerging choices in distance learning that can enable you to take classes on your computer while also participating in the workforce. See Quintessential Careers resources on financial aid.
Next, quality of life. Is there anyone who wouldn't like to live a longer, healthier life? Studies show that, compared to high-school graduates, college graduates have:
longer life spans
better access to health care
better dietary and health practices
greater economic stability and security
more prestigious employment and greater job satisfaction
less dependency on government assistance
greater use of seat belts
more continuing education
greater Internet access
greater attendance at live performances
greater participation in leisure and artistic activities
more book purchases
higher voting rates
greater knowledge of government
greater community service and leadership
John G. Ramsay, a professor at the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, said that the credentials you gain with a college education "are about setting yourself apart, being employable, becoming a legitimate candidate for a job with a future. They are about climbing out of the dead-end job market, and achieving one of life's most difficult developmental tasks: independence from one's parents. Strong credentials trigger that magical set of middle class 'firsts,' " Ramsay said: "The first real-world job, the first non-student apartment, the first new car, and of course, the first loan payments. Weak credentials can be painful reminders of a string of misfortunes: poor advice, money problems, bad decisions, and wasted time."