It pays to graduate – Higher education enrollment rates on the rise

INLAND EMPIRE – Graduation ceremonies and other events that mark the end of a school year are rife with tradition. Students know it is important to receive their diplomas but may not have a full understanding of why that piece of paper can help open so many doors.

Diplomas date back to some of the earliest schools, but were also conferred upon land owners in ancient times by kings and other authority figures. Some military personnel were also given diplomas to signal land grants that were not subject to taxes. Nowadays diplomas take on a different meaning and vary depending on where one lives in the world.

Graduates who complete a specific course of study are issued diplomas. Diplomas were once written on Italian sheepskin. Although “diploma” translates to “folded papers,” paper was not always an economically viable medium for diplomas. In fact, animal skins were used as recently as the 1950s.

Receiving a degree or diploma can be a point of pride in families where older members may not have had the same educational opportunities as younger members.

Many people move to North America for the educational opportunities, and a diploma can symbolize taking advantage of those opportunities.

According to the organization Do Something, roughly 20 percent of first-time college students come from parents who have a high school diploma or less. The United States Department of Education says high school graduation rates have increased since the 2006-2007 school year. Around 80 percent of students who enter high school now earn a regular or advanced diploma. Dropout rates are on the decline, and a growing number of high school students continue on to two- or four-year degrees.

In Canada, numbers are quite similar. Canada is second only to the United States in the high school completion rate of its working-age population. Statistics Canada says that enrollment in Canadian universities continues to increase. Enrollments are now approximately 5 percent larger than they were just a few years ago.

Community colleges are benefiting from this influx of students. Various statistics from the 2010-2011 year point to more than eight million American students enrolled in community colleges at that time. Community colleges enable students to take core curriculum credits at a less expensive institution and then move on to a four-year school later on to expand on their coursework. This presents a viable option to students who are looking to keep education costs manageable.

The reason so many students continue to apply themselves and come out after four or more years with diplomas and degrees is that they realize how competitive the job market can be. Graduates have a distinct advantage over other candidates. Some companies will not even consider a job candidate who does not possess some college education. Other employers pay more depending on the level of education the job candidates completed.

According to the United States Department of Labor, employees with a bachelor’s degree earn about 54 percent more on average than those who attended college but didn’t finish. Workers with advanced degrees (master’s, doctoral, etc.) can average $20,000 to $30,000 more per year than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Some students, however, will insist that failure to have a diploma isn’t a barrier to success. For example, Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur who owns Virgin Group, did not graduate high school. But such people are an aberration. Typically, earning a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree is a key ingredient to landing a good job and enjoying professional


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