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Study: Bachelor’s degrees boost annual salaries by $32,000 in Idaho

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on February 4, 2020

Idahoans with a bachelor’s degree earn about $32,000 more per year on average than those with only a high school diploma, according to a new study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

And the gap widens around Boise, where workers with only a high school diploma earn almost $38,000 less per year.

The Fordham Institute released its finding on Idaho’s earnings gap Tuesday.

The study also compares Idaho’s salaries per educational attainment with neighboring states and underscores the Gem State’s stagnate college go-on rates amid a $133 million push to help more young adults earn a college degree or certificate.

Some key findings from the study:

Education pays

Education adds up to more earnings for Idahoans. Here’s a tally of average annual salaries for various levels of education:

  • A high school diploma: $47,184.
  • Some college but no degree: $52,195.
  • An associate’s degree:$56,550.
  • A bachelor’s degree: $79,114

Researchers based their findings on inflation-adjusted figures from full-time, year-round workers, ages 30-59, who participated in the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015–17 American Community Survey.

Boise’s broader gap

Idaho’s pay gap widens in Boise’s metro area, which includes Ada, Boise, Canyon, Gem, and Owyhee counties. The increased disparity stems from lower average pay for those with only a high school diploma and higher pay for those with a degree. Here’s a breakdown from around the Treasure Valley:

  • A high school diploma: $45,004.
  • Some college but no degree: $53,124.
  • An associate’s degree:$59,897.
  • A bachelor’s degree: $82,784.

The Boise area’s lower average salary for high school grads constituted one of the “most surprising findings,” said John Winters, who authored the study. Winters speculated about why:

  • More lower-skilled high school grads moving to the Boise area, driving down average wages.
  • A “uniquely weaker” labor demand for workers who lack college-level skills.
  • High school grads near Boise may be gaining less-productive or employable skills from their education than high school graduates elsewhere.

“We can only speculate, as we’ve done here,” Winters noted, calling for “further study and careful consideration” on the issue.

A comparison of surrounding states

Percentage-wise, Idahoans receive a larger premium from an associate’s degree than workers in any neighboring states. Yet an associate’s degree in Idaho is still worth less, on average, than a high school diploma in Wyoming.

How Idaho stacks up to nearby states:

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Idaho Ed News

Idaho’s college go-on woes

Boise-based school choice nonprofit Bluum supported the study.

In the study’s forward, Bluum CEO Terry Ryan pointed to Idaho’s top education goal to see 60 percent of young adults hold a college degree or certificate. Yet after seven years and more than $133 million in taxpayer spending, Idaho’s college go-on rate continues to hover around just 40 percent.

Boosting college go-on and completion rates is one way to close the pay gap, Ryan said. A “less discussed approach” is making a high school diploma worth more.

In the study’s afterward, Fordham Institute researchers Adam Tyner and Amber Northern provided ideas for improving alignment between education and employment in Idaho, from more options for coursework in science, technology, engineering and math to incorporating more industry-aligned training for high schoolers.

“Not only does completing these programs make students more employable in the short term,” Tyner and Northern write, “it gives them a knowledge base upon which to build further education and training.”

Click here to read the study.

More reading: Click here for EdNews’ eight-part series on Idaho’s “60 percent” goal, and the demographic realities that stand in the way.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News and Bluum are both funded by grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

About Devin Bodkin Idaho Ed News