Is a college degree still worth it? Yes, but challenges exist

Several reports and articles of the last few months have reinforced the long-standing axiom – a college education is one of the best long-term investments an individual can make. This is especially the case in Utah. According to Mark Knold, the Supervising Economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services:

Attaining more education corresponds with having a lower unemployment rate. In Utah, those with less than a high school diploma have an 11 percent unemployment rate. With a high school diploma, 8 percent. Some college no degree, 5 percent, and with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 3 percent. All of these unemployment rates are lower than the corresponding national averages.”

Additionally, the higher the education of an individual, the more that person generally earns annually five years after graduation. Of course, not all degrees are created equal, and each student’s individual financial and academic circumstances widely vary. However, the data continues to show some sort of post-secondary certificate or degree, especially in high growth technical industries, leads to significant employment and earnings opportunities.




Do college graduates earn more because of their degree or because of their skills?

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics that studies adult skills and life experience demonstrates that the relationship between educational attainment and skill proficiency continues to exist. The report contains data on more than 8,000 adults, selected to be representative of the entire U.S. workforce. The findings give a more detailed picture of the relationship between skills like numeracy and literacy and a U.S. worker’s age and education. In other words, the study shows that a college degree confers core knowledge that adults without degrees are less likely to possess.

Challenges Exist

Increasing costs

When adjusted for inflation, the total cost per full-time student has increased an average of 14.4% at USHE institutions over the past decade. Similar to most other major industries, these increased costs are primarily due to increased personnel costs and an increase in regulatory mandates. There are two primary sources that fund the costs of a Utah public college student: state tax funds and tuition. Over the past decade, state tax funds have decreased -8.5% per full-time student while the student’s portion of tuition has increased 55.5%. This decrease in state funds is partially due to the student growth that has occurred during the past decade for which state funds have not kept pace. USHE institutions have added over 26,000 full-time students in 10 years – approximately the current size of Weber State University‘s student body. The combination of increased costs and enrollment growth have resulted in a larger portion of a student’s costs being paid by tuition.


Rising tuition prices have coincided with falling incomes of American families during the past decade. While Utah has been a leader in wage growth recently, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, personal income in Utah has only increased 4.9% in the past decade, compared with 21% increase in inflation. As a result, the average sticker price of college now eats up a larger percentage of a family’s paycheck. Even if tuition prices didn’t increase, the cost of a college degree for most Americans would feel like it’s continuing to rise.

Higher Education in Utah is still worth it

Despite the challenges of increased sticker price of college and persistent underemployment, Utah enjoys one of the most affordable options for college in the country. Utah has the third lowest tuition in the nation for public four-year institutions. This is in large part due to the state’s support for public higher education. Despite its decreases, those reductions have not been nearly as dramatic as seen in other states. Further, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utahns with a bachelor’s degree earn 55% more than those with only a high school diploma. A college education in Utah is still a good bet.


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Trisha Dugovic
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