Who Gains the Most From a College Education?

A new study finds that the students who are least likely to go to college (based on family background, abilities, and friend group) are the ones with the most to gain from a degree. Jennie E. Brand and Yu Xie find that the unlikeliest male college graduates earned 30% more over their lifetimes than comparable men who earned only a high school degree. In contrast, male college graduates most likely to go to college earned only 10% more than their non-college-educated counterparts. Brand and Xie observed a similar trend for women. The authors believe that the tough labor market faced by non-college-educated, disadvantaged students partly explains the results, but they point to an additional factor: economic motivation. “For students from disadvantaged groups, college is a novelty that demands economic justification,” Brand said. “By contrast, for students from advantaged backgrounds, college is a culturally expected norm. Economic gain is less of a motivation.”[%comments]


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  1. Matthew R. says:

    I noticed many of my high school peers didn’t so much go to college as they did attend the thirteenth grade. That is, they just went along with the flow, without any rationale for why to attend college. It was just the thing everyone did.

    It makes perfect sense that students from backgrounds in which economically and socially college attendance is not routine would have a greater sense of focus. The first generation of college attenders probably aren’t majoring in Medieval Folklore or Feminist Theory, but majors with direct relationships to professional employment (e.g., nursing, accounting).

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  2. latisha says:

    Normally don’t do this type of thing, but I just read this book and it was fantastic. Its called “You Have A College Degree, Now What?” and I now feel as if I’m in the right frame of mind for success to take place. I’m graduating from college in May and thanks to this book I now feel prepared. Here’s where I found it at. http://www.amazon.com/You-Have-College-Degree-What/dp/0578044048/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270658049&sr=1-1

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  3. Megan Mahon says:

    To say that “economic gain is less of a motivation” for those who are well off seems to be a sweeping generalization. I personally believe that those who are already at a financial “advantage” receive tremendous pressures from their family, friends and society to keep up their social status.

    It does not surprise me that those “disadvantaged” made greater financial strides after college than those who are “advantaged.” However, I think this drastic increase in salary is because of personality and work ethic. It cannot be just about motivation to succeed financially because everyone wants to live a “comfortable” lifestyle.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    This is true for MBAs too. My family cannot help me pay for my top 10 MBA education. So I am driven to extract as much value as possible, because it’s risky for me to tack this onto my undergraduate debt. My well-off peers, by contrast, have fun and enjoy this experience much more than I do.

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  5. anonymous says:

    Ahhhhh….. you’ve got to love an ideological platform. Who’s to say that economic achievement is even something to aspire to? Yes, yes,…. save your ideologically conditioned rejoinders of “communist” or “hippie” for your next shopping trip. Material wealth and economic “success” don’t make for a happier life. (Yes, I realize that you’ve internalized the idea that a large plasma television will make you happy. Pretend I didn’t say anything.)

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