What is the Value of a College Degree During the Pandemic?


By Jennifer Kunze, Ph.D.

Director of Ramp-Up to Readiness


During much of the history of the United States, earning a college degree has been the pathway to a career that offered strong financial rewards, employment stability, and many other accompanying benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation time. Data supporting the value of a college degree has been omnipresent and recurrent. In our Ramp-Up to Readiness™ program for students in grades 6 – 12, we refer to the data below:

I have recently read many musings about whether or not college students—regardless of whether classes are held online or in person—will return to school next fall. Some have suggested that students are afraid of returning to crowded classrooms and closely quartered apartments and dorms, and thus will opt out of college all together. Others have stated that some students perceive the value of online education as less than in-person learning and will refuse to pay for it. Others have indicated they think high priced four-year colleges are in trouble and that students will choose to attend classes at community colleges to save money.

While there is much uncertainty about the impact the pandemic will have on college attendance, there are some interesting data points emerging that continue to suggest that possessing a college degree or certificate is incredibly valuable, even during a time of great crisis. Currently, data suggest that in several ways those with more education are faring better than their counterparts with less. 

One interesting set of data that supports this premise was provided by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. This data set suggests that as of April 29, 2020, outside of health care providers, people with a college degree are more likely to be able to work from home during the pandemic, as indicated below:


Why does the ability to work from home matter?  For one, it allows workers to continue to work and receive a paycheck. During the pandemic, it has allowed those able to work from home to be able—albeit with great difficulty—to provide in-home care for children in places where stay-at-home policies exist. Working from home also eliminates a commute, can lead to greater productivity and provides fewer distractions. One recent study done before the Covid-19 pandemic, moreover, showed that 80% of job seekers would choose a position with a flexible work-from-home policy over one that does not offer that benefit. What would that study look like today?

A second set of data, which comes from Burning Glass Technologies, depicts the decline in U.S. job postings by education requirement. The data suggest that job postings requiring a high school degree were most in decline at 56%, while job postings requiring an Associate’s Degree were at 52%, a Bachelor’s Degree at 53%, a Master’s Degree at 44%, and a Ph.D. at 34%:


Epidemiologists have repeatedly said that the U.S. is still only in the early innings of the Covid-19 epidemic. As a result, much is in flux, but it does seem that postsecondary education remains a good bet.


About the Author

Jennifer Kunze, Ph.D., is the Director of Ramp-Up to Readiness at the University of Minnesota, and is thoroughly committed to college for all. Her additional professional interests include high quality instruction, professional learning systems, and labor trends. She is also a licensed social studies teacher, and has worked in K-12 settings, leading efforts in curriculum and instruction, mentoring/coaching, alternative compensation, and postsecondary readiness.

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