Is college worth it?

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A Pew Research Center analysis confirms that, even in this economy, college reaps earnings dividends.

Yes, college is expensive. Yes, it's hard to start a career in debt. Yes, you know a college graduate who's unemployed or sadly underemployed.

The post-2008 job market hasn't been kind to the labor force. From high school dropouts to holders of advanced degrees, it's harder to get or keep good jobs. And pay rates for most workers have lost real spending power.

But if you want to maximize your marketability and earning ability, your odds improve with a college education.

A Pew Research Center analysis confirms that, even in this economy, college reaps earnings dividends. The study reported that with just a high school diploma, young adults (in 2012 dollars) earned only 62 percent of typical college graduates' pay. In the mid-1960s, a high school graduate typically earned 81 percent of a college grad's pay.

So, though there's always been an "education premium" for those with more education, the premium has grown, even after the Great Recession slashed professional pay.

That doesn't mean charging blindly into the classroom. There's a lot of attention these days, and quite rightly, to for-profit career colleges that train students for jobs that don't pay enough to repay hefty student loans associated with that training.

You must understand the future earning power of your chosen occupation. Will your education debt be reasonable and repayable, based on your likely paycheck?

That said, here's more education fuel from the Pew report: Typical recent graduates from four-year colleges, ages 25-32, working full time, earned $45,500; contemporaries with two-year degrees or some college, $30,000, and contemporaries with only high school diplomas, $28,000.

That's a $17,500-a-year education premium for college graduates over high school-only graduates. So, is the cost of education worth it? The data say yes.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and twitter.com/kcstarstafford.

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