Barbara Robertson: Coronavirus crisis highlights the power of college
Guest Commentary

Barbara Robertson: Coronavirus crisis highlights the power of college

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Barbara Robertson

Barbara Robertson

The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, but it’s not too early to take stock of lessons learned, or in one case a lesson affirmed.

As if more evidence were needed, the current crisis has further underscored the value of college, specifically four-year degree attainment.

We can see this clearly in the latest employment data. In April, the unemployment rate for individuals with no more than a high school diploma hit a staggering 17.3 percent, exceeding its Great Recession peak by 6.3 percentage points. The rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree, while disconcertingly high at 8.4 percent, was more than 50 percent lower. (The jobless rate was worse still among workers who never graduated from high school, at 21.2 percent.) Workers with associate’s degrees also fared poorly, with an April unemployment rate of 15 percent.

These datapoints come as little surprise, given the concentration of workers lacking bachelor’s degrees in hard-hit industries such as food service and retail sales. Nevertheless, they undermine the notion – fashionable in some quarters in recent years – that college is not the value proposition it once was.

To press the point further, the experts we have turned to time and again for guidance and insight throughout this crisis are invariably individuals with advanced degrees, including doctors, scientists, and economists. I can’t think of a better, more compelling argument in support of postsecondary education. Where would we be without our medical and research professionals, especially when confronted with a complex global problem of the magnitude of COVID-19? More to the point, where would they be without the training they received in college and graduate school?

This is not to suggest that employment security should be the sole or even principal reason that one attends college. It is an important consideration, though, and one that parents and students can ill afford to discount entirely. Nor am I claiming that all college graduates are destined to become thought leaders in their chosen field.

What we can say with some assurance – and the data bear this out – is that workers with four-year degrees are better insulated against economic shocks, and they enjoy more options in the employment marketplace. Moreover, it is a virtual certainty that the vast majority of tomorrow’s prime influencers will hail from the ranks of those who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree.

With graduation season fast approaching, and with the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara having just awarded more than $6 million in scholarships to Santa Barbara County students pursuing college, graduate, and vocational studies, it is as good a time as any to highlight an indisputable fact of life in 21st century America.

Let there be no doubt: College matters, perhaps now more than ever.

Barbara Robertson is president and CEO of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.

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