Education

THE BUSINESS OF YOU: DOES COLLEGE PAY OFF FOR BLACK STUDENTS?

Posted on Friday, March 18, 2011


BY JACKIE JONES
IN A RECENT STUDY CONDUCTED BY THE ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE, A NONPARTISAN THINK TANK IN WASHINGTON, D.C., THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR GRADUATES OF FOUR-YEAR COLLEGES, WHO ARE UNDER 27 YEARS OF AGE, WAS 13.3 PERCENT. THE OVERALL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS WAS 15 PERCENT.
THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR WHITE COLLEGE GRADUATES UNDER 27 WAS 6.2 PERCENT.
THOSE KINDS OF NUMBERS HAVE LED SOME AFRICAN AMERICANS TO WONDER WHETHER COLLEGE IS REALLY WORTH THE MONEY OR, MORE IMPORTANTLY, GOING INTO THE EXORBITANT DEBT THAT MANY COLLEGE GRADUATES NOW BEAR.
FOR YEARS, MANY AMERICANS, PARTICULARLY BLACK AMERICANS, HAVE TAKEN IT AS AN ARTICLE OF FAITH THAT A COLLEGE DEGREE MEANS HIGHER-PAYING, SOLID JOBS, AND LESS EXPOSURE TO FLUCTUATIONS IN THE ECONOMY AND THE IMPACT OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES WHICH HAVE ELIMINATED A LOT OF THE MANUFACTURING AND UNSKILLED JOBS THAT SUPPORTED THE UNDER-EDUCATED FOR GENERATIONS.
NOW, HOWEVER, THE RECESSION HAS SHAKEN THAT BELIEF.
“THE QUESTION IS WHETHER OR NOT YOU GET YOUR RETURN ON THAT INVESTMENT IN ACTUAL FINANCIAL CAPITAL OR SOME SORT OF HUMAN CAPITAL OR EMOTIONAL CAPITAL OR SOCIAL CAPITAL,” BOYCE WATKINS, A PROFESSOR OF FINANCE AT SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY, TOLD NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (NPR) IN A RECENT INTERVIEW. “THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS THAT THIS BLANKET NOTION THAT GOING TO COLLEGE WILL GUARANTEE YOU A BETTER ECONOMIC FUTURE IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE.”
STILL, WATKINS AND OTHERS SAY A COLLEGE EDUCATION CAN STILL BE A GOOD INVESTMENT.
A 2007 COLLEGE BOARD STUDY, “EDUCATION PAYS,” SAID PEOPLE WITH BACHELOR’S DEGREES EARN AT LEAST 60 PERCENT MORE THAN THOSE WITH HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS OVER THE LIFE OF THEIR CAREERS. THE BOARD ALSO SAID ITS RESEARCH SHOWED THAT COLLEGE IS STILL RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE.
RATHER THAN THE QUOTES OF $35,000 A YEAR OR MORE OFTEN CITED AS THE COST OF AN UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION, THE COLLEGE BOARD REPORTED THAT 53 PERCENT OF STUDENTS ATTEND FOUR-YEAR SCHOOLS WITH ANNUAL TUITION AND FEES BELOW $9,000.
FOR THE 2009-10 ACADEMIC YEAR, THE BOARD SAID, ABOUT TWO-THIRDS OF ALL FULL-TIME UNDERGRADUATES RECEIVE GRANT AID, AND PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES AND COMMUNITY COLLEGES ARE SEEING INCREASES IN ENROLLMENT.
BUT THE REAL ISSUE, SOME SAY, IS NOT THE VALUE OF GOING TO COLLEGE, BUT THE DISADVANTAGE OF NOT GRADUATING.
“THE RESEARCH CURRENTLY SUGGESTS THERE’RE A LOT OF BLACK STUDENTS GOING TO COLLEGE BUT NOT GETTING A DEGREE,” SAID ALGERNON AUSTIN, A SENIOR ECONOMIST WITH THE ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE.
WATKINS (NPR) IT IS ALSO CRITICAL THAT STUDENTS HAVE SOME SORT OF PLAN, TO SEE A DEGREE AS A TOOL THAT INCREASES THEIR OPTIONS, TO RESEARCH AND FOCUS THEIR STUDIES IN FIELDS THAT ARE PROJECTED AS GROWTH AREAS.
“NOW, WHEN YOU HAVE STUDENTS WHO ARE GOING TO COLLEGE FOR ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT AND THEY CHOOSE MAJORS THAT DON’T FIT THAT PARTICULAR OBJECTIVE AND THEN TAKE A LOT OF DEBT ON IN THE PROCESS, THEN, YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE TO ASK THEM, ‘WELL, DID YOU PLAN IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH WHEN YOU ENDED UP WITH AN OUTCOME THAT YOU DIDN’T QUITE EXPECT?’”
BUT IT DOESN’T MUCH MATTER FOR NEW GRADUATES, AUSTIN SAID, WHETHER YOU GET A JOB IN THE FIELD IN WHICH YOU MAJORED. IT SIMPLY MATTERS TO EMPLOYERS THAT YOU HAVE A DEGREE.
“MANY PEOPLE GET A DEGREE IN ONE THING AND END UP DOING SOMETHING ELSE,” HE SAID. “IT’S JUST A SIGNAL TO AN EMPLOYER THAT THIS IS A PERSON WHO HAS A GENERAL APTITUDE, WHO CAN LEARN THINGS AND STICK TO THINGS. IN MANY JOBS YOU LEARN THE JOB ON THE JOB.”
AUSTIN, DIRECTOR OF THE INSTITUTE’S PROGRAM ON RACE, ETHNICITY AND THE ECONOMY, SAID SUCCESS IS MORE LIKELY FOR THOSE WHO ARE A LITTLE MORE STRATEGIC IN THEIR APPROACH TO COLLEGE.
“HOWEVER, WE STILL LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE RACE MATTERS, SO COLLEGE-EDUCATED AFRICAN AMERICANS ARE NOT DOING AS WELL AS COLLEGE-EDUCATED WHITES,” HE SAID. “WE NEED MORE BLACKS TO GO TO COLLEGE AND COMPLETE COLLEGE. WE STILL NEED TO WORK TO MAKE SURE ALL BLACKS, EVEN THOSE WITH COLLEGE EDUCATIONS, HAVE EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES WITH WHITES.”
A NUMBER OF OPPORTUNITIES BEING CREATED IN THE U.S. IN AN EFFORT TO PULL THE NATION OUT OF THE RECESSION WILL INCLUDE A LARGE NUMBER OF JOBS THAT WON’T REQUIRE A DEGREE, AUSTIN CONTINUED, BUT THOSE JOBS NEED TO PAY A “DECENT” WAGE.
IN THE SAME NPR INTERVIEW WITH SYRACUSE’S WATKINS, RICHARD VEDDER, AN ECONOMICS PROFESSOR AT OHIO UNIVERSITY, SAID THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT COLLEGE REALLY MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE.
HE SAID THERE ARE PLENTY OF EXAMPLES OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE DEGREES WHO ARE WORKING IN JOBS THAT DON’T REQUIRE ONE. TWELVE PERCENT OF MAIL CARRIERS IN THE U.S., FOR EXAMPLE, HAVE COLLEGE DEGREES, VEDDER SAID.
STARTING OFF AT LOWER-COST COMMUNITY COLLEGES MAY BE A BETTER WAY FOR MANY PEOPLE TO START AND THEN, IF SUCCESSFUL, TO CONSIDER A TRANSFER TO A FOUR-YEAR PROGRAM, VEDDER SUGGESTED. HE ALSO SAID STUDENTS SHOULD INVESTIGATE CAREER COLLEGES AND VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS THAT OFFER NON-DEGREE, CERTIFICATE TRAINING.
AUSTIN PREDICTED THAT THE ECONOMY WILL RECOVER, BUT IT COULD TAKE YEARS BEFORE PROFESSIONALS SEE THE KINDS OF SALARIES THAT EXISTED BEFORE THE RECESSION HIT, IF EVER. WHAT IS MORE LIKELY, HE SAID, WILL BE A GROWTH IN SERVICE-SECTOR JOBS THAT CATER TO THE GROWING AGED POPULATION, SUCH AS HOME CARE AIDES AND OTHER POSITIONS THAT WILL ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF THE ELDERLY.
“THE RESEARCH SUGGESTS IF YOU GRADUATE IN AN ECONOMIC TIME LIKE THIS YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE (ABOUT 7 PERCENT LESS) THAN IF YOU GRADUATED IN A STRONGER ECONOMY,” AUSTIN SAID. “AMONG PEOPLE WHO GET A JOB, THE RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT 15 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD, THE GAP WILL BE REDUCED, BUT THEIR ABILITY TO REACH THE KIND OF SALARY THEY WOULD HAVE DRAWN HAD THEY GRADUATED IN A STRONGER ECONOMY WILL STILL BE LESS THAN IT WAS BEFORE THE RECESSION.”
JACKIE JONES IS A FREELANCE WRITER AS WELL AS A CAREER AND FITNESS COACH FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GET THEIR LIVES IN SHAPE. HER WEBSITE IS



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