Mark Mullen's letter to the editor raised the question of whether higher education is a good investment for American families. The economic returns from a college degree have never been higher, though we need to make college education more affordable for all young people without incurring burdensome debt.
College graduates have lower unemployment rates and higher salaries than those with only a high school degree. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 the unemployment rate for college graduates was 2.5 percent for bachelor’s degree-holders and 3.6 percent for associate’s degree-holders, compared to 5.2 percent for those with only a high-school degree. The Pew Research Center recently found that for millennials ages 25 to 32, those with college degrees earned on average $17,500 more annually than those with only a high school degree — the biggest gap recorded in the modern era. While a college degree may not be for everyone, acquiring a skill in demand after high school is.
We need to reduce the burden on working families to attain these degrees. Universities should cut administrative costs, given the rising ratio of administrators to students. The state of Florida should do more to assume a greater share of tuition costs. Tennessee, for example, recently adopted tuition-free community college and technical school for high school graduates. They did so under a Republican governor and Legislature, with bipartisan support. Just as America determined nearly a century ago that citizens and workers needed more than primary education in an industrial age and made high school universal and tuition-free, in an Information Age we should extend that principle to at least community college.
The writer is correct that college today is too expensive for many families. The answer is not to get rid of higher education, but to make it more affordable for working families.