College degree equals economic clout and yes, debt

The cost of college keeps rising, but apparently it might be worth it. Maybe.

Richard Fry, a senior research associate for the Pew Research Center, reported today that data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows nearly one out of two dollars in American income goes toward those who are college educated. In 1991, the same data showed that about 37% of the aggregate income dollars went toward the same segment of the population. Fry also points out that college educated people tend to marry each other, increasing their household incomes even more, which then helps them better afford college for their children.

Clark County’s buying power appears to be on the rise as its college educated population has risen this past decade (see chart).

Chart: Educational attainment in Clark CountyDescription: Educational attainment in Clark County.Tags: Author: John Hillcharts powered by iCharts

Of course, there’s a flipside: the rising cost of a college education.

report from the College Board in 2012 states: “Over the 30 years from 1982-83 to 2012-2013, average published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions rose 167%, from $10,901 (in 2012 dollars) to $29,056. The average published price at public two-year colleges rose by 182%, from $1,111 (in 2012 dollars) to $3,131, while the increase for in-state students at public four-year institutions was 257%, from $2,423 to $8,655.”

That same report shows that tuition and fees at Washington’s four-year institutions has risen more than 60% in the past five years alone, making it one of the ten most expensive states to get a bachelor’s degree.

This has led to another trend that’s drawing some attention: rising student debt after graduation. According to CNN Money, a study by Fidelity Investments says the average American college graduate walks off campus owing on average $35,200. Using a debt repayment calculator, it appears that repaying that amount would take about 263 months or nearly 22 years, if a college graduate paid $200 a month and 3.9% interest (which is the rate set for undergraduate Stafford loans).

Tuition at WSU this year is at $5,698 per semester (there are two per year).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s breakdown of educational attainment, the median earnings for someone in Clark County with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 were $45,218 ($57,203 if you’re male; $35,641 if you’re female). That’s significantly more than someone who only holds a high school diploma ($30,131) or some college or an associate’s degree ($35,501), but is it enough to warrant the additional $35,200 in college debt facing the average college graduate?

I have a degree in history, so I’ll let you do the math and come to your own conclusions.

John Hill

John Hill

John is the web and photo editor at The Columbian, where he has worked since 1995 in various roles. A journalist for the past 25 years, he's a fan of good storytelling, data, graphics and still likes to read an actual newspaper. Twitter: @hilljohng

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