This time, it's new Census Bureau figures that show us lagging in higher education. A story from Florence uses a 29-year-old non-traditional student to illustrate the data: "30 percent of the nation's population, aged 25 or older... hold a bachelor’s degree or higher."
And -- I hate to ask -- how do we compare?
The 2010 American Community Survey (also by the Census Bureau) reported that only 24.5 percent of South Carolinians held college degrees. The state ranked in the middle of 14 southern states. Just more than 84 percent of the residents had high school diplomas.
Nearly a third of all Americans hold college degrees. Here in South Carolina, we can't break a full quarter.
Florence-Darling Technical College President Charles Gould tried to rationalize the data.
“Many of our students are the first one in their families to be going to college,” Gould said. “Secondly, this state is really just beginning to value education. We were primarily an agricultural state, not high-tech, so education wasn’t valued the same as you would find in other parts of the country.”
Now, Gould said, those times have changed.
Companies such as BMW, Boeing, GE and others are seeking employees for high-tech manufacturing jobs with more than a high school education, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. That inbetween area is why a college like FDTC, that offers specific, engineering-related education, have seen “a radical increase” in enrollment.
“With the recession, low-level manufacturing jobs have disappeared, so there’s a limited environment for which someone can make a living who has not attained a level of post secondary education,” Gould said. “The message is getting through: if you want to make a good living you have to have a bag of skills.”
Ah, so our state's corporate owners rear their heads again. What they want, they get. They don't want expensive degree-holders, but they do want people who have enough discipline and training to be compliant employees.
So South Carolina's lawmakers follow suit, at a cost to South Carolina's children.
Though some may argue that the value of a college degree is falling, or the amount of money to obtain one is so prohibitive as to make it less attractive, the survey shows a clear income difference for higher degree holders. Bachelor’s degree holders nationally had median annual earnings of $47,510 compared to a high school diploma holder’s $26,776 — a 77 percent difference. Additionally, bachelor’s degree and advanced degree holders weathered the Great Recession much better, with a lower unemployment rate than those who have a high school diploma or less.
Moral of the story: Live in South Carolina, and you can get a lower paying job for something less than a college degree.
Maybe we should change our state motto: While I breathe, I work for less.