ELIZABETH A. CONKEY, Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- The College Board released two annual reports Monday that once again brought to light the value of pursuing higher education.
The College Board is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of connecting students to college success and opportunity and is perhaps best known for the development of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
The reports, entitled, "Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society," and "How College Shapes Lives: Understanding the Issues," articulate differences in both employment patterns and earnings potential among U.S. adults with varying levels of education, and aims to "call attention to ways in which both individuals and society as a whole benefit from increased levels of education."
According to the report, individuals with higher levels of education earn more than those who hold only a high school diploma or GED and are more likely to be employed.
In 2011, the median earnings of an individual possessing a bachelor's degree with no advanced degree, who works full-time, totaled at $56,500, an amount $21,100 more than the median earnings of high school graduates.
To boot, individuals who had completed some college but did not earn a degree earned 14 percent more than full-time employees with a high school diploma.
According to Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released similar data with a state-by-state breakdown of data.
The report states that the median wage of Vermonters holding an associate's degree is 36 percent higher than that of Vermonters with only a high school diploma.
"I feel that Vermont's data was very significant," Judy said. "Thirty-six percent is a lot when you think about Vermont wages. It really helps you answer that question, ‘Is college really worth it?'"
The College Board report also noted the correlation between higher education and a lower unemployment rate.
According to the report, the unemployment rate in 2012 for four-year college graduates, aged 25-34 was 7.1 percentage points below that of high school graduates.
Those students who completed some college or obtained associate degrees also fell below high school graduates, at 4.0 and 1.6 percentage points respectively.
Judy said that Vermont's data shows similar patterns.
"In Vermont, the unemployment rate for those holding an associate degree is two points lower than those with only a high school diploma," she said. "I think this really shows the value in higher education. The data speaks for itself."
The College Board report also compares different components and indicators of well-being amongst individuals of differing educational backgrounds, including health-related behaviors and civic participation.
For instance, it was cited that last year, 42 percent of four-year college graduates volunteered for organizations, as opposed to a mere 17 percent of high school graduates.
Additionally, 80 percent of bachelor's degree recipients aged 45-64 voted in the last election, while 59 percent of high school graduates did the same.
To the token of well-being, the report showed that college-educated adults are less likely then others to be obese.
Southern Vermont College President Karen Gross said that the report reinforces and reiterates what has been said in the past regarding the value of a college education, and confirms many existing understandings to that end.
"It makes an excellent point that the benefits of a college degree go beyond just economics," she said. "In addition to having economic benefits, a college degree enhances one's civic engagement and enhances the health and well being of the one holding the degree."
However, Gross noted that she found the information provided in the supplemental report, "How College Shapes Lives" to be vastly more interesting, as it unravels in greater detail the information provided in the preliminary report.
"One of the most telling features is that the economic benefits of a college degree differ depending on one's racial and ethnic background," Gross said. "It is really important to look not just at the overall statistics but to look at them broken down by various subcategories."
One table provided in the report shows the earning premiums for various ethnic backgrounds and races, including Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans.
According to the report, the earnings premium for black full-time workers with bachelor's degrees compared to those with high school diplomas is 64 percent - $50,100 compared to $30,500.
"This shows that the value of a college degree can be felt by our racial and ethic minorities, more even than whites," said Gross. "That's important. That means we have to encourage more vulnerable students to not just access but to complete college."
Gross noted that approximately 65 percent of SVC students are "first generation" students, or the first member of their family to attend college.
In addition, 43 percent of SVC students are eligible for Pell grants, or federal financial aid reserved to fund the college educations of low-income students.
According to Gross, both groups of students fall into the category of being "vulnerable."
"One of the goals of SVC is to help vulnerable students succeed. We're very proud of the number of Pell eligible and first generation students that we have," she said, noting that while similar private Vermont colleges, such as Middlebury College and Williams College, have many students receiving federal financial aid, they do not have many students eligible for Pell grants, a distinction "That is different. Many students get federal aid (borrowing not grants)," she said.
Gross noted the significance of the data provided in the report as it relates to colleges such as SVC and its mission to educate students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
"This data shows that if you can get a diverse population through college, it has an enormous impact in creating better lives for the people, for themselves, and for society," she said. "Those are the students that we need to get to and through college."
For those pursuing higher education, Judy noted that college does not always have to hold the connotation of being astronomically costly.
"There are lots of ways to afford a college education," she said. "You don't have to go into really high debt."
According to Judy, full-time, in-state CCV students will only pay $5,400 for the year.
She went on to say that while a college education does not necessarily guarantee employment, or guarantee earnings, as the report may display at first glance, it certainly provides many opportunities.
"It's hard to argue with this data," Judy said. "The information clearly demonstrates that the more education you get, the better off you are to weather difficult economic times. It serves as a great insurance policy to that end."
To view both of the reports released by the College Board, visit http://trends.collegeboard.org.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @bethconkey.