Beyond Police, Prisons and Food Stamps

“Police, prisons and food stamps.” Those were several of the responses when I recently asked urban youngsters visiting Macalester College how tax money is spent to help students and families. It was a forceful reminder that we need to do a better job of communicating.

Despite tough economic times, a new report from Georgetown University urges that we set a challenging but doable goal of increasing by 20 million, the number of people with either 2 or 4 year degrees. The report says this would “boost our GDP (gross domestic product) by $500 billion (and) add $100 billion in additional tax revenues….” (link here)

We need to help youngsters understand how they can use some tax money spent on schools by preparing themselves well, and then entering some form of higher education. I’m not saying everyone should go to a 4-year college. But whether we’re talking about a 1, 2 or four-year program, very few of these young people we met with knew about scholarships available for strong students, or about “Dual Credit” courses that allow high school students to earn college credit while still in high school.

Some will say, “Joe works at a college so naturally he wants students to attend there, or elsewhere. “ But our Center does not receive funds from the college, so I don’t have any immediate benefit from youngsters coming here.

However, I do – and ALL of us do – benefit from more people earning a 1, 2 or 4-year higher education degree. points out that some well paying jobs require education beyond high school, but not a 4-year degree (links here and here).

Many studies show, on average, that people who graduate with some higher ed degree or certificate earn far more than those who don’t continue their education beyond high school.

It’s also true, as the Georgetown study reports that some jobs requiring a four-year degree don’t pay as well as others (click here).

But Dane Smith, founder and director of Growth and Justice, a progressive “think thank” in Minnesota is absolutely right when he says, “A well-educated populace strengthens the economy. And education puts individual Minnesotans in a better position to earn a decent living. That’s why we’re proposing the state adopt the strategic goal of increasing by half the number of Minnesotans who have a post-secondary degree by the year 2020.”

Smith and I don’t always agree. But we do agree on the importance of the goal he suggests.

Researchers at Georgetown University have just produced some additional supporting research. “The Undereducated American” points out that

  • The US used to rank 1st in percentage of adults with a higher education degree. Now we rank 9th
  • Half a million students per year graduate in the top half of their class but do not earn a 2 or 4-year degree.
  • There is a growing demand for people with some education beyond high school
  • “If we continue to underproduce college-educated workers, the large and growing gap between the earnings of Americans of different educational attainment will grow even wider.”

Taxes aren’t just for prisons and police. Students starting the new school year should know how they could help themselves, their families and the country by understanding at least some of the info above.