Buried in the February jobs report was an overlooked but important figure: 3.9 percent.
That is the unemployment rate for bachelor's degree holders, about half the national average of 7.7 percent. Though support for job creation is a rare point of consensus in our partisan political climate, scant attention is paid to the role higher education plays in reducing unemployment and increasing wages for American workers.
President Obama's second-term administration and the new Congress have begun the battle over the best way to prod a sluggish economy into full-scale recovery mode. The need to encourage and increase college completion must be part of the conversation.
Each month, federal jobs data show that those who pursue higher education have lower unemployment and higher salaries than those without college degrees. In 2012, median weekly earnings for high school graduates were $648, compared with $1,170 for those with a bachelor's degree.
Educated workers are the best positioned to secure high-wage jobs, attract business investment and grow the economy. Absent access to higher education, we risk creating a permanent class of citizens who will never have the chance to achieve their full potential.
This is bad for individuals and families, and bad for the country. A recent study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that if 20 million workers added postsecondary education to their skill set by 2025, the gross domestic product would increase by $500 billion and tax revenues by $100 billion.
Simply put, education matters. There is significant value in providing greater educational access to as many citizens as possible. Yet, the United States is falling behind the rest of the world. By some reports, we have dropped from first place in college completion to 16th. For a nation used to leading, 16th is not good enough.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson provided a vision for the United States as he signed the Higher Education Act: "For the individual, education is the path to achievement and fulfillment."
President Obama echoed this when he said, "The good jobs of tomorrow will demand more than a high school education." The time has arrived, he said, to graduate more students who are prepared for college and a career.
An overwhelming majority of citizens agree. Results of a Gallup poll, conducted in partnership with the Lumina Foundation and released Feb. 5, show that 72 percent of Americans believe it is critical to have a college degree as a pathway to financial security and freedom.