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Investing in college is financially worth it, says recent book

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As high school seniors plug away at their college applications, some might be wondering if it’s all worth it.

An Ohio State professor’s recent book analyzing the economic outlooks for students says it most definitely is.

In “How College Affects Students: 21st Century Evidence that Higher Education Works,” the analysis shows students who graduate college will earn more money, over their lifetime, than those who do not.

“College is worth the investment,” said Matthew Mayhew, professor at Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, and co-author of the book. “Regardless of how you’re going to college, by way of your financial resources, you will have an economic return that’s pretty substantial.”

From 2000 to 2013, Americans with a four-year college education received a 12 to 14 percent rate of return on their investment, according to the book. Gregory C. Wolniak, co-author and an associate clinical professor at New York University, said the rate of return is the percentage of gains one receives on an investment that are over the investment’s cost. In terms of a college degree, the rate of return represents one’s lifetime earnings minus the costs incurred while attending college, Wolniak said.

To achieve a higher rate of return on a college degree, several factors matter, such as field of study and GPA.

“Securing a job in the same field as your college major also has a big impact on your earnings,” Wolniak said. “And indeed, getting good grades matters too — for every one point higher GPA you achieve appears, on average, to be associated with 5 to 6 percent higher earnings in the first few years after college graduation.”

“College works. Going to college actually reaps benefits beyond the economic benefits well into your 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s,” — Mathew Mayhew, professor at Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

Both Wolniak and Mayhew said that students should focus on quantitative reasoning skills. Wolniak said fields such as engineering, computer science and health sciences are high-earning fields because they are linked to quantitative or scientific skill development.

Mayhew said students should be sure they can reason with numbers, charts and statistics.

“Regardless of your major, you should come out with those skills because those are skills employers are looking for,” Mayhew said.

Besides the economic benefits, college graduates will have better health outcomes, achieve better critical-thinking skills and have children who are more likely to go to college.

“College works. Going to college actually reaps benefits beyond the economic benefits well into your 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s,” Mayhew said.

Although the investment in college is worth it, the financial burden is not easy. Mayhew said that the price of college now “is getting absolutely ridiculous.” The average tuition for attending an in-state, four-year public college is just under $10,000 per year, according to College Board.

“I don’t know if we were to write the book 10 years from now … I don’t know if the economic means for college are going to be as strong as they were in this volume, because college is getting so expensive,” Mayhew said.

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