LITTLE ROCK – The average debt that a student incurs to earn a bachelor’s degree in Arkansas is almost $2,000 less than the national average.
Over the course of a 30-year career, a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn an estimated $1.25 million, compared to $550,000 that a college dropout will earn over the same period.
Estimates of career earnings were compiled for the legislature by three state agencies – the Higher Education Department, the Division of Workforce Services and the Arkansas Research Center.
Elected officials and business leaders are keeping a close watch on graduation rates from the state’s colleges and universities, because in the modern global economy the prosperity of a region is directly related to the educational achievements of its people.
For reasons of economic development, Arkansas has been trying to increase the number of college graduates. To that end, the legislature changed the formula by which state aid is distributed to higher education campuses, to emphasize graduation rates more than student enrollment.
At a recent meeting of lawmakers at the state Capitol, officials from higher education and workforce services presented an Economic Security Report, which analyzed how the new strategy is working.
It’s well known that it pays to get an education. For example, a person with a bachelor’s degree will earn an average of $32,000 in their first year in the workforce, compared to a high school graduate who will earn $12,700 in their first year of working.
The report provides specifics from every institution in Arkansas. A person will earn $26,348 the first year after earning a Certificate of Proficiency in tool and die technology from the University of Arkansas-Rich Mountain, in Mena. A person will earn $28,266 the first year after earning a Technical Certificate from the same campus.
Someone with a degree in Natural Resources, which includes studies in General Forestry, from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, will earn $39,057 during the first year of their career.
The report is 116 pages, most of which are listings of programs from Arkansas colleges and universities and the estimated earnings that certificate and degree holders can expect during their first year in the workforce.
Among the facts and figures is a chilling fact: neither a high school graduate ($12,700) nor a college dropout ($14,700) will earn, on average, enough to cover the basic expenses of living during their first year of working.
A single adult will spend $22,100 a year, according to the report. That includes $6,200 for rent, $4,600 for a car, $3,000 for food, $2,300 for medical costs and $2,800 for other expenses. Two married adults with one child can expect to pay $49,900 a year in expenses.
Even when the cost of college loans is factored in, a degree is worth the investment, especially in Arkansas. The average debt for a bachelor’s degree in Arkansas is $26,800, compared to the national average of $28,650.
In 2017 health professions constituted the most popular category of study in Arkansas higher education, accounting for 8,415 graduates. There were 4,566 graduates in business, management and marketing, 1,550 in computer and information sciences, 849 in engineering, 276 in legal professions, 167 in foreign languages and 156 in mathematics and statistics.