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Does College Pay? For Women, Yes; For Men, Maybe

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Washington--In recent years, high-school students have consistently listed getting a better job and making more money among their primary reasons for deciding to go to college. And many studies have suggested that a college education does elevate average earnings over a lifetime.

But a soon-to-be-released report by the Education Department's statistics-gathering branch concludes that at least in the first several years following graduation from high school, and at least for males, a college education doesn't mean higher pay.

The report, entitled "Does College Pay? Wage Rates Before and After Leaving School," marks one of the first attempts by researchers to focus on the earnings of people in the first few years following their graduation from high school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (nces). Earlier empirical work in the area, the report said, has focused on the "mid-life" years, long after the transition from school to work.

The new analysis, which examined the wage and job histories of more than 17,000 high-school seniors of the class of 1972, found that women who had earned bachelor's or advanced degrees by 1976, or four years after graduation from high school, clearly earned more money per hour than their peers who did not go to college.

On the other hand, by 1979, or seven years after high school, male college graduates did not do as well as their peers who did not go to college or who attended college for less than two years.

The median hourly wage rate for men who had earned a bachelor's or advanced degree was $6.88. This compared with a median hourly wage rate of $7.06 for high-school graduates who did not go to college at all and $6.94 for men who had attended college for less than two years. Wage rates for all years covered by the study were converted into 1980 dollars in order to adjust for inflation.

The report noted that the data for 1980 and subsequent median wage data would have to be analyzed in order to determine whether college-educated men from the 1972 cohort eventually surpassed their less-educated peers in median hourly earnings, and, if so, by how much.

In addition, the report also found that in all categories of educational attainment, women earned significantly less money than did their male counterparts.

For example, young men who had earned high-school diplomas but did not go to college started out on their first job at a median hourly wage of $4.71 per hour. The starting median wage for women of equal educational backgrounds was $3.76 per hour, according to the report. In addition, by 1979, or seven years after graduating from high school, men who had earned bachelor's degrees reported a starting median wage rate of $5.96 per hour, compared with $5.24 per hour for women who had gone to college for same length of time.

"Over the long term for both men and women, the financial returns of a college education may repay the actual costs of schooling, as well as the wages lost by not working during the college years," the report said. "College probably does pay for young women, but it is too early to say the same for young men."

Graduate Learns More

Earlier reports by the Federal government have indicated that, over a lifetime, a college graduate stands to earn significantly more money than a peer who enters the work force directly after high school.

For example, a recent Census Bureau study of year-round full-time workers over the age of 25 reported that in 1981 the median annual income of men who graduated from high school but did not go to college was $20,598 per year, compared with $26,394 for those who completed four years of college and $30,434 for those who completed five years or more.

The Census Bureau study also reported that women who did not continue their education past high school had a median annual income of $12,232, compared with $16,322 for those who completed four years of college and $20,148 for those who completed five years or more.

Another Census Bureau report released in 1970 estimated that the lifetime earnings of men with a college education was $576,653 in 1968, compared with the projected lifetime earnings of $361,083 for men who had completed four years of high school only. Those who had completed only eight years of elementary school had projected lifetime earnings of $265,198.

Neale Baxter, managing editor of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics's Occupational Outlook Quarterly, said last week that similar data from the 1980 census on projected lifetime earnings have not yet been analyzed.

Mr. Baxter also said that that it was important to consider a number of factors when examining the nces report.

"You have to consider the time frame involved in this study and the differences in the ways that pay increases are given to blue-collar and white-collar workers," he said.

"The average blue-collar worker's earnings are calculated under a pay scale negotiated by a union," Mr. Baxter explained. "After about seven or so years on the job, a blue-collar worker is already near the top of his occupational pay scale."

At the same time, a white-collar worker of the same age has only been out of college for about three years, he continued. "That worker's lifetime earnings are going to be significantly affected by a number of factors, such as a longer work life, more frequent pay increases, better benefits, and a reduced likelihood of unemployment."

Copies of the the report may be obtained from the Statistical Information Office, National Center for Education Statistics, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., (Mail Stop 1001), Washington, D.C. 20202.

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