Education divides household haves and have-nots

College costs are rising faster than incomes and student loan debt is through the roof. That’s led to all kinds of hand wringing about whether college is worth it.

But every time we’re ready to ditch that part of the American Dream, it seems that new data surface to tell us to hold on.

Newly released numbers on wealth and asset ownership by the Census Bureau show education still deeply divides the haves and have-nots.

Median Value of Household assets 2010  
No High School Diploma $7,270
High School Graduate Only $42,223
Some College, No Degree 43,580
Associate’s Degree $58,861
Bachelor’s Degree $142,518
Graduate or Professional Degree $245,763

College seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student loan debt, according to the Project on Student Debt.

Minnesota students graduated in 2010 averaging $29,000 in loan debt, about $1,500 more than the previous year.

No one should let debt overwhelm them. The New York Times wrote recently of a generation of students who took on more college debt than they could afford and are struggling badly now in a weak economy.

But that’s different than saying college isn’t worth it. For most of us who aren’t entrepreneurs or super geniuses, college offers a real opportunity to build wealth.

— Paul Tosto

  • B Joe

    But these data don’t necessarily mean that college is worth the cost right now. Presumably, the people with median household assets of $245,763 didn’t graduate in 2010, or probably anytime in the vicinity of the housing bubble and subsequent collapse. With respect to being evidence that college is worth it in 2012, these data are heavily biased by people who got theirs while the getting was good. The getting isn’t necessarily good anymore.

    Having a degree may make it easier to get a job, provided you had the foresight to get a degree in a field where new grads are actually getting hired. If you lacked that foresight, then there is a very high probability that college was not a good investment (in terms of $$$) for you.

    All these numbers mean that college was worth the cost for some people a while ago.

  • Kevin

    I am tired of over-simplified reports of the economics of college. To me, it would be a lot more meaningful to break it down by degree.

    Also, let’s keep in mind that correlation does not imply causation. The population of people who go to college is different than the population of those who don’t, so it’s hard to draw conclusions from this data.

  • Mark Gisleson

    That’s a truly dreadful list that’s hopelessly skewed by the 1%. A B.A. degree is not worth $100k a year to a household, period. If that was true, there’d be no student loan crisis.

    But having the CEOs of all the major bankster outfits in NYC in your group? Priceless!

  • matt

    So a degree is a signal – hey employers, I have a good grasp of the world, can follow directions and stick with a project for 4 years (well supposed to be 4 years). Being able to send that signal gets you past the first gate in dream job land. Well, it used to anyways. Now employers are using college as a signal that someone is on par with a high school grad from 20 years ago. The K-12 system just doesn’t have the signalling cred that it used to. Meanwhile colleges have raced to the bottom as well. Your newly minted Bachelors in Business Administration is nice but it doesn’t mean you know what you need to know and it definitely doesn’t mean that you will work the way is expected. Meanwhile both systems are eating a whole crap-ton of resources.

    A billion dollar opportunity awaits the person who can develop a more effective and efficient signal. My prediction is some form of sponsorship in exchange for a portion of earnings will begin to develop.

  • BJ

    Median – from wiki ” In statistics and probability theory, median is described as the numerical value separating the higher half of a sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. ”

    So if 11 numbers











    0median is 99,000

  • Kevin

    @Mark, it’s a median, not a mean. A mean would be skewed by the 1%, but a median wouldn’t be.

    Also, it’s not “per year”. It’s total accumulated household assets.

  • Mark Gisleson

    Kevin, thanks. Median didn’t throw me off as much as “accumulated” did.

    Now I don’t know what these numbers mean since they apparently include inherited/family wealth, a variable so huge it distorts everything.