by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Tom Burnett asks in a Martin Center column whether it’s still a good investment to get a college degree.
Recently, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced that he was in favor of a plan to make college education free–for most students at public institutions anyway. Why? Because too many students are supposedly being kept out of college due to its cost. Even though much of the expense of public higher education is already borne by taxpayers, Biden (and many other politicians) want to make sure that almost every student can afford to attend.
The assumption behind Biden’s plan is that college degrees are a great investment that gives the student a huge boost in earnings. Many people believe that, and recruiters bombard youth with promises that college pays. For example, Peter Osborn of Cornerstone University writes: “Ultimately, not going to college is a decision that sabotages you for the rest of your life. Your income and earnings will always be lower, and you will always have to fight harder for a job. If you want to set yourself up to succeed, a college degree is clearly the way to go.”
That has been the conventional wisdom in America for several decades: Unless you get a college degree, you will never do well in the labor market.
The conventional wisdom, however, is being tested by the pay of actual jobs.
I couldn’t help noticing the starting wages offered by Hobby Lobby at their new store in my city, Bozeman, Montana. Store officials said they would be paying full-time employees $15.70 an hour. Many graduates of our land-grant university, Montana State University-Bozeman, with degrees in liberal arts and film/video and photographic arts could find higher pay there than where they’re working.
According to the College Scorecard, our liberal arts graduates’ median earnings were $26,400 the first year after graduation, while film graduates made $21,700.