21 College Facts to Be Thankful For

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Last October, to celebrate the Halloween season, we shared Twenty-One Scary Facts about College. We admit, as celebrations go, it was kind of a bleak one. Turns out the numbers relating to student loan debt and rising tuition are terrifying. But the news isn’t all bad.

In fact, on the balance, the arguments in favor of college remain quite strong. For those of us fortunate enough to enjoy the opportunity of a college education, there is much for which to be grateful.

In the spirit of the approaching Thanksgiving holiday, we think this is the perfect time to consider all the great things about receiving a college education. So as you loosen your belt, gorge on savory delights, watch the Detroit Lions lose a football game, and squabble lovingly with family members about long-unsettled hash, take a moment to consider these Twenty-One College Facts to Be Thankful For.

 1  The economic advantages of a college education remain clear. College grads still earn far more than their non-college counterparts. The National Center for Education Statistics says that as of 2014, the median earnings of young adults with bachelors degrees was, at $49,000, sixty-six percent higher than that of the average adult high school graduate ($30,000).

 2  This is almost certainly because employment opportunities are so much stronger for college grads. The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree in 2015 was 2.8%, nearly less than half the 5.4% rate for those who didn’t attend college.

 3  College grads are also the very first to benefit in times of economic recovery. Of the 2.9 million “good jobs” added to the economy since the end of the Great Recession, 2.8 million have gone to those with at least a bachelor’s degree. A study by Georgetown University [PDF] describes a “good job” as a full-time occupation earning the employee at least $53,000 per year with benefits and retirement planning.

 4  These benefits apply to a wide variety of college majors and disciplines. In its most recent survey, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that for ten broad degree categories ranging from engineering to communications, 2016 graduates are projected to have an average salary of $50,556. That’s up five percent from 2014, when new grads earned an average of $48,127.

 5  This means that, in spite of the high cost of college, a lot of people get a pretty decent return on their investment. As of 2010, the average household with student debt had an income of $71,681 and was making a monthly payment toward their loan of $242. That monthly payment is about what those same households spent each month on entertainment ($217) and apparel ($145), which is to say, they could afford it.

 6  In fact, in spite of the debt often accrued through college loans, the average college graduate is likely to have less “bad debt” over the course of a lifetime. According to the Lumina Foundation [PDF], the likelihood of having a bank account is 8.1 times greater for college grads, which means that this demographic is less dependent on credit and less likely to fall under the sway of onerous borrowing arrangements.

 7  You’ll also be happy to know that as a college graduate, you are probably less likely to rob a bank, or at least to get caught doing it. According to a study from 2009, sixteen- to twenty-four-year-old high school drop-outs were sixty-three percent more likely to be incarcerated than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The connection between earning potential and propensity toward criminal activity is fairly concrete.

 8  On the bright side, your earning potential is not even strictly dependent upon whether you graduate. That potential actually increases for every year of college you complete. Obviously, your goal is to graduate, but if that isn’t in the cards for you, it doesn’t mean you don’t stand to gain from your time in school. Putting aside the intrinsic and intellectual gains, your employment odds go up almost as soon as you set foot on campus. ProCon.org says that the median increase in earnings for completing just freshman year was eleven percent in 2007. The increase was sixteen percent for completing senior year.

 9  If you are so inclined, you can also get there through a two-year college. According to US News & World Report, a person with an associate degree will likely earn about $325,000 more in a lifetime than one with just a high school diploma.

 10  Best case scenario, college puts you on the path toward extraordinary affluence. Everybody loves the story of the dropout prodigy who invents a world-changing microprocessor, becomes extravagantly wealthy and travels from place to place aboard some sort of hovercraft that normal people can’t buy. But this story is a lot less common than you might think. In 2012, eighty-five percent of the individuals on Forbes’ list of 400 Richest Americans were college grads.

 11  Even if you don’t become a billionaire, at least you’ll have your health. Seriously. In 2014 [PDF], ninety-two percent of college grads between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four had some type of health insurance as compared to eighty-two percent of those with only a high school diploma.

 12  A study by Lancet shows an even more compelling connection between educational attainment and health, revealing that between 1970 and 2009, the infant mortality rates were significantly lower among expectant mothers who had attained a college education.

 13  In general, actually, the array of health benefits that correlate to a college education are pretty compelling. College graduates are significantly less likely to struggle with high blood pressure or obesity and, according to a 2010 study, will live, on average, six years longer than non-college grads.

 14  At least one likely explanation for this correlation is the fact that sixty-three percent of college grads between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four report to exercising vigorously at least once a week, as compared to thirty-seven percent of high school grads.

 15  Maybe this is because college attendance also promotes an active lifestyle, one that can be habit-forming. Depending on the college you choose, you could get access to any number of awesome facilities including a gymnasium, a student center, free movies, live music performance, intramural athletics, culture clubs (not to be confused with the Boy George ensemble) and so much more. Sometimes, college feels a bit like a mashup between school and summer camp. If you’ve got these facilities on campus, you’re probably paying for them. Make the most of it. As a citizen of the world, I can’t tell you how much I miss having a free gym with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

 16  Awesome facilities aren’t the only perk of campus living. This will be one of the greatest opportunities in your life to meet fascinating, inspiring, and like-minded individuals. You never know what impact one of these new friends might have on your future. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, forty-five percent of recent job seekers said that personal and professional contacts were the most important resource in their search for employment. Make those contacts in college, whether with classmates, professors, researchers or local leaders. You may never again have access to such an exciting and diverse array of minds.

 17  And hey, who knows, you might even meet your soulmate. According to a 2013 study by Facebook, twenty-eight percent of married couples attended the same college as their spouse, this author among them.

 18  Even if you don’t meet your spouse in college, you improve your chances of landing in a happy marriage just by earning your bachelor’s degree. Those who do hold such a degree are twenty-one percent likelier to be married [PDF] and have a sixty-one percent lower probability of being divorced or separated.

 19  You are also likely making a brighter future for the children you create with that spouse. Parents with college degrees are likelier to raise children who perform well academically and who are culturally well-rounded. Children between three and five whose mother holds a bachelor’s degree are eighteen percent more likely to recognize all letters of the alphabet. Fifty-nine percent of children with at least one college grad parent were likely to participate in after school activities such as sports, art, and scouting as compared to twenty-seven percent of children with high school grad parents.

 20  As long as we’re talking about children, have you started planning for retirement yet? Just kidding. We know you aren’t there yet. Don’t freak out. Worry about getting a job first, and then we’ll talk. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that, according to the Lumina Foundation [PDF], the likelihood of having a retirement plan through one’s place of employment is seventy-two percent greater for college grads. Your retirement income is likely to be about 2.4 times higher than that of the non-college grad.

 21  But let’s take it one step at a time. What do your job prospects look like in just a few years? Well, the economy of the not-too-distant future is likely to be one increasingly reliant upon college graduates. A Georgetown University [PDF] study forecasts that by 2018, sixty-three percent of all American jobs will require some level of college education or degree.

All of these facts probably help to explain why, in spite of the many economic and academic challenges facing this generation of college students, raw graduation numbers are the highest they’ve ever been. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 2014 saw the production of 1.84 million bachelor’s degrees and one million associate degrees. They projected that these numbers would reach two million and 1.09 million respectively in 2022.

Is there anything else that you’re thankful for, college related or otherwise? In the spirit of the harvest season, please share your stories of gratitude with us!

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