Denise Cummins Ph.D.

Good Thinking

A College Degree Pays Off Less If You Grew Up Working Class

Working class students often make one huge costly mistake in college.

Posted Mar 30, 2016

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In my recent PBS NewsHour article, I talk about why having a college degree pays off less for students who grew up poor or working class.

Data from the U.S. Department of Labor show that workers with college diplomas earn on average $459 more a week than those who hold only high school diplomas.

But here is what's hidden in these "averages":

College graduates from upper-middle-class families earned 162 percent more over their careers than those with just a high school diploma. But college graduates from poor families were found to earn only 91 percent more over their careers than high school graduates from the same income group.

Why? Researchers are investigating a number of explanations but the one that jibes most closely with my experience as a professor is the one offered by Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management at Northwestern University, in her recent book, “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs.” Rivera points out that working-class students are more likely to spend too much time studying instead of socializing and making connections. The message they hear while in high school and college is “be smart, work hard and get good grades.” But students from high-income households know that isn’t enough. 

Read more here.

Copyright Dr. Denise Cummins March 30, 2016

Dr. Cummins is a research psychologist, an elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and the author of Good Thinking: Seven Powerful Ideas That Influence the Way We Think.
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