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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Does College Success Correlate with Socioeconomic Status?

College is a time for many students to explore their gifts and talents and to make a decision about their future careers. While many four-year programs are about exploration and making life-long friendships, it can also be a crucial time to decide which direction a young person will want to go in terms of the job market. How a student performs in college and which decisions he or she makes can affect the salary he or she ends up with.

Where much of this can be seen is the choices young people tend to make in terms of what they choose to study while they are still in school. As technology becomes a larger part of the global conversation, colleges are seeing an increase in the enrollment in STEM programs, which lead to higher-paying jobs right out of college.

“Students who recently graduated from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science are making an average salary of $84,400. Engineering grads from Stanford are earning a bit less,” reports Susan Adams for the Huffington Post.

In order for a student to succeed in a program that will likely boost his or her position economically, he or she must compete for enrollment at a top school. Those who have graduated from well-known and reputed universities tend to start out with a higher salary and they are often promoted at a faster rate than those who attend lesser-known colleges.

“[C]haracteristics on which predicted salary are based include whether a college was in a big city with lots of job opportunities or a smaller town with fewer options and whether a school was a community college of research university. It also accounted for information based on student backgrounds, such as age, race, ethnicity, family income, and academic preparation,” states Emily Jane Fox for CNN.

Within recent studies conducted, it is not unlikely to see that students from a higher socioeconomic background tended to enter into more reputed program. This also means that they are more likely to succeed within a college environment, graduate at a higher rate, and enter the work force with a higher-paying salary. However, because the value of a high school diploma is dropping, more and more students are choosing to enter college in order to get ahead.

“In rates of normal college enrollment, wealth students have long outpaced their lower-income peers. But the gap is narrowing…most recent high school students who enroll in college go to a four-year school, though a substantial minority attend two-year colleges,” writes Preston Cooper for Forbes.

In fact, many students are taking out thousands of dollars in student loans in order to be able to apply for jobs that eventually will allow them to pay back debts. This can also determine which careers students choose and whether they will choose to go on for further education. Even students who choose to enroll in programs that can lead to well-paying jobs still often have a large amount of debt to pay back.

“Indeed, college graduate are already having a difficult time balancing ever-growing student loan payments against declining ages. Between 2000 and 2011, the wages of college graduates actually dropped by 5.4 percent…in 2011, two-thirds of college graduated with debt equivalent to about 60 percent of their annual income on average,” says Caroline Fairchild for the Huffington Post.

The mounting debts for students has forced many to consider alternative forms of education in order to gain the skills necessary for a high-salaried position. This might mean taking additional classes or taking the time work. Even something as simple as pizza delivery could be beneficial to one’s future career. For many who do not have the financial support from parents, this is a way to develop additional skills that might help them have an edge over the competition.

Even with the amount of debt that students take on, it is almost impossible to rise from a socioeconomic level without a college degree. As the value of a high school diploma diminishes, it is almost required that young people have a degree in order to succeed financially.

“The driver of that widening is not so much that today’s college graduates are doing better than yesterday’s college graduates are doing; it’s that today’s high school-only graduates are doing worse than yesterday’s high school-only graduates,” states Paul Taylor in an article for U.S. News.

As a result, college can be the defining moment that decides whether students will be able to succeed in adult life. In order for them to increase the chances of changing their socioeconomic status, which industry they choose to enter and which degree they complete can make a big difference in whether or not they will improve their lifestyles. As student debt continues to climb, it make sense that young people will choose more lucrative careers in order to start off on the right foot.

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