From 1965 to 2013, according to a new Pew report called “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” the typical high school graduate’s earnings fell more than 10 percent, after inflation.
“That is one of the great economic stories of our era, which you could define as income inequality,” said Paul Taylor, an author of the report. “The leading suspects are the digital economy and the globalization of labor markets. Both of them place a higher premium on the knowledge-based part of the work force and have the effect of drying up the opportunities for good middle-class jobs, particularly for those that don’t have an education.”
Even middle-class jobs that are still available increasingly require a college degree, either because they require more skill than they used to or because employers have become pickier.
Laurence Steinberg believes fixing high school is the best way to produce more college graduates:
The U.S. has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion.
More than one-third of U.S. students who enter a full-time, two-year college program drop out just after one year, as do about one fifth of students who enter a four-year college. In other words, getting our adolescents to go to college isn’t the issue. It’s getting them to graduate.
If this is what we hope to accomplish, we need to rethink high school in America. … If we want our teenagers to thrive, we need to help them develop the non-cognitive traits it takes to complete a college degree—traits like determination, self-control, and grit. This means classes that really challenge students to work hard—something that fewer than one in six high school students report experiencing, according to Diploma to Nowhere, a 2008 report published by Strong American Schools. Unfortunately, our high schools demand so little of students that these essential capacities aren’t nurtured. As a consequence, many high school graduates, even those who have acquired the necessary academic skills to pursue college coursework, lack the wherewithal to persevere in college. Making college more affordable will not fix this problem, though we should do that too.