Special Report
College & Workforce Readiness

Linking Learning to Earning

By Lynn Olson — December 29, 2006 3 min read

Educating young people to high levels is a moral imperative, but statistics suggest it’s also an economic one—for individuals and for society.

A college graduate in the United States earns, on average, $23,441 more per year than a high school graduate, and $31,595 more than a high school dropout.

Executive Summary
Overview: PRE-K-16
Child Well-Being
Early Childhood
K-12 Schooling
Postsecondary Success
Workforce Readiness
Linking Learning to Earning
A Continuum of Necessary Investments for Learning
International Comparisons
Table of Contents

College graduates also are more likely than high school graduates to have full-time, year-round employment, and are about 20 percent more likely to be fully employed as those without a high school diploma.

Those statistics don’t even reflect the cost burdens to states in the form of public assistance, publicly financed health insurance, and increased incarceration rates for those who drop out of high school.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland found that one of the biggest factors explaining differences in income across states is the educational attainment of their citizens.

Yet, with few exceptions, publicly supported education systems are not well aligned with workforce and economic-development systems at any level of government, according to a report from the New York City-based Workforce Strategy Center. And none of those systems is adequately responsive to the labor market, the center found.

Data Download
Economy and Workforce Indicators PDFExcel

A 2006 survey of 431 human-resources officials for the Conference Board, a business-research group based in New York, found that about seven in 10 employers deemed the professionalism and work ethic of high school graduates deficient, as well as their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Eight in 10 found the written communications of recent graduates wanting.

Moreover, 28 percent of those surveyed projected that, over the next five years, their companies would reduce the hiring of new entrants with only a high school diploma.

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The College Advantage Across the nation, adults with bachelor’s degrees earn substantially more than those with only a high school diploma. But that earnings advantage varies by state, according to 2005 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
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Edge in Income
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2007
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Rising Attainment Since the early 1970s, the percentage of adults in the workforce who have less than a high school diploma has declined sharply, while the proportion with at least some college has been climbing steadily.
[Collapse Chart]
Note: \"Some college\" category includes associate’s degrees.
SOURCE: Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006
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“Greater communication and collaboration between the business sector and educators is critical to ensure that young people are prepared to enter the workplace of the 21st century,” says Richard E. Cavanagh, the president and chief executive officer of the Conference Board. “Less-than-intense preparation in critical skills can lead to unsuccessful futures for America’s youth, as well as a less competitive U.S. workforce.”

Twenty-one states have defined workforce readiness, according to the policy survey of 50 states and the District of Columbia for Quality Counts 2007. Thirty-five states give students the option of earning a standard high school diploma with a concentration or specialization in a career-technical field.

Inadequate workforce readiness has implications far beyond states’ own borders. “The fact is that a school in Ohio is not competing against a school in Michigan,” says James E. Whaley, the president of the Iselin, N.J.-based Siemens Foundation. “It’s competing against a school in Shanghai. Companies are looking for the best talent all over the world, and if they find it, they’re going to move there.”


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