The pandemic has changed a lot of things — some for better and others for worse. In education, it has pushed institutions to innovate in ways that support students in all facets of their educational journeys. Thus, ushering in an age of inclusivity and flexibility in the way students can learn. However, another impact of the pandemic adds urgency around increasing accessibility to higher educational opportunities.
Jed Kolko of the New York Times reported alarming news from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the article “The Jobs the Pandemic May Devastate”. His findings indicate an overall job loss impact of 2.6% year over year in sectors that require a high school diploma or less. Now, that may not sound like a lot, but when you analyze it against the 28.1% of Americans who have completed up to a high school degree, that comes out to be a job loss of 2.3 million year-over-year, provided that the 2.6% figure does not change. However, with the dramatic and continuous rise of learning materials and tuition dollars, is it unlikely to think that the number of Americans who defer or are otherwise unable to obtain a higher education could rise?
Taking it a step further, when looking at income potential differentiation between high school to bachelor degree holders, the median weekly income extrapolated over 52 weeks comes out to a difference of $27,664 in gross earned wages year over year.
Median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers age 25 years and older, by educational attainment, first-quarter 2000—third-quarter 2019, not seasonally adjusted. Originally published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
That number over a lifetime equates to a difference of $2.1 million between those with a high school diploma and those without.
Education is the most viable opportunity for upward social mobility we have in our society. It enables beneficiaries of tertiary degrees a chance to increase their income not only for themselves but to potentially change the trajectory of their families and communities. As the shortage of opportunities for those who hold a high school diploma increases, access to learning opportunities must be improved to pave the way for greater earning potential. If these opportunities are not created, we risk contributing to inequities that have left deep scars on our society. Scars that we are trying so hard to mend at this very moment. The future of higher education has to be accessible, and that future is today.