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Placing education back on top in U.S.

Katie Paulson
By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
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Good news, undergraduates. According to recent statistics, that bachelor's degree has now drifted close to being on par with a high school diploma in terms of financial compensation in the workforce.

Although the U.S. tends to pride itself on remaining on top of the industrialized world, it continues to neglect the importance of education, which is evident through the increasing unimportance of the bachelor's degree in the workforce.

That may be slightly unfair. According to The New York Times, a four-year college degree still allows individuals to earn 40 percent more than those who received only a high school diploma.

But since the 2001 recession, the demand for low-skilled workers has increased over those showcasing their new academic achievements. In fact, the median weekly pay of workers with only high school diplomas actually increased 3.6 percent since 2000. The New York Times reports this is an increase rate of four times as much as the rise in pay for those with college educations.

The market has forced more college-educated individuals to accept jobs that require no more than high school credentials. For instance, 19 percent of theater ushers, lobby attendants and ticket takers ages 25 to 44 hold bachelor's degrees, according to a 2002 report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Furthermore, 12 percent of oil derrick operators also took part in advanced educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, these discrepancies will continue to exist unless the U.S. places education on the top tier of national importance. Although more individuals are attending college (in 2003, 38 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled), now it's time to look beyond obtaining solely a bachelor's degree.

Looking purely at the financial aspect, Americans with graduate degrees earn an average of 35 to 50 percent more than those with bachelor's degrees, according to the Kaplan Testing Services Web site. However, even with more than 600,000 individuals in 2001 participating in graduate-level programs, the government continues to ignore such constituents in terms of financial compensation.

With the vow not to cut taxes, President Bush and other congressional leaders must decide which programs receive the ax in terms of federal funding. Interestingly, one of the proposals for the chopping block includes subsidized loans for graduate students. Unlike undergraduates, graduate students do not qualify for such "free" government financing like Pell Grants. Instead, the majority of graduate students rely on subsidized loans in order to complete their work.

Unlike their unsubsidized counterparts, subsidized loans allow students to defer interest payments until after loan repayment begins. This can save students some of the financial obligations until they are fully financially capable.

Because of higher-wage possibilities, students should be eager and clamoring to reach for graduate levels of study. But without governmental financial assistance, it's hard for most to afford the climb to new academic heights.

This situation presents a quandary to the current undergraduate generation. First, we must come to accept that our degrees do not necessarily equate to secure and desirable jobs. Fine.

Then, we must understand that more individuals are attending college, and this number will most likely rise exponentially. Using our economics skills, we see that supply will outweigh demand, which creates much higher competition, at least in this particular market. Fine.

So the mission of college-educated students is not only to reverse the trend on degree discrepancies but also to pressure the nation's governmental bodies to mark education as a priority.

Our nation simply cannot continue to scale back on education funding. Of course, if it does, I heard McDonald's is hiring.

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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