College America


The college system has been one of the most debated topics in the United States since the year 2000. A part of this can be attributed to the fact that higher education is now more accessible and more common than in the past, a trend that began with the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944. This federal legislation paid for the college education of soldiers who returned from World War II. As a result, the number of college students more than doubled in the late 1940s. A college degree was, at that time, seen as a ticket to a better life, and was also linked with entry to a higher class. These attitudes appear to have been maintained forwards in time, despite the fact that a college degree now costs more (and is worth less) than it was in the fifty years after World War II.

Graduation Rates

More American high school students today aspire to go to college than ever before. Around 80% of 10th graders say that they plan to attend college, a 21% increase from the 1990s. Yet despite the fact that students usually gain admission to universities based on their academic achievements, a young person's economic background is still an important indicator in determining whether they will attend and complete college. Less than 1 in 17 of children from families who earn less than $35,000 a year will earn a bachelor's degree, compared to 1 in 2 children from families who earn more than $85,000. Since 66% of students get financial help from their families while going to school, those with families who can provide such support have a better chance of succeeding.

Another important factor to consider when looking at graduation rates is the type of schools that a student attends. Overall, around 30% of college and university students drop out before their second year, and 50% of college students never graduate. However, non-selective schools, or schools that do not establish certain academic criteria by which to admit students, only graduate around 35% of their students while selective, more competitive schools graduate on average 85% of their undergraduates. Elite schools often have graduation rates well over 90%. Harvard, for example, graduates around 97% of its undergraduates.

Life After College

While many people still associate a college degree with success, students who graduate during economic stagnation have an unusually difficult time finding employment. The amount of unemployed graduates doubled between 2008 and 2009, and there are currently more than 2 million unemployed college graduates in the United States. This lack of jobs has led many students to apply for lower-paying positions or with organizations that defer, forgive or reimburse college loans like Americorps and Teach for America. These agencies have seen a large increase in applications from recent graduates who are unable to find work. Although the salaries for these positions are usually small, assistance with student loans is appealing since over 20% of students default on their loans within 15 years.

Currently, around 40% of all 25 to 64 year olds in the United States hold a college degree. Economists used to say that a bachelor's degree was worth an average of about $1 million dollars over the course of a graduate's life, meaning that a worker who held a degree could expect to earn that much more than a worker who had no college education. However, this figure was based on statistics from several decades before, and various factors have caused the value of a degree to fall significantly. Today, experts say that a college degree is worth closer to $300,000 over a lifetime rather than $1 million.

Further Studies

If you are fascinated by the relationships between job markets, surpluses of college degrees and average wages, the field of economics can teach you how factors like supply and demand, inflation, and government intervention interact to affect a country's overall standard of living. However, if you find that you are more interested in helping others choose the right educational and career path, academic counseling is an area of study that combines aspects of psychology and education to help students choose majors that are best fitted to their personalities and future goals. But if you enjoy analyzing the facts and figures about college in America, you should look into the field of statistics which focuses on gathering, investigating and interpreting data in order to discover useful trends and patterns.