By the seventh year after high school graduation in Washington state, the student who has earned a four-year college degree at a public university in the state earns 18 percent more if male and 19 percent more if female, compared to high school grads of similar abilities and backgrounds who didn’t go to college.

That’s the upshot of a recent report from the Washington Office of Financial Management’s Education Research and Data Center (EDRC) titled “Earnings Premium Estimates for Bachelor’s Degrees in Washington State.

As the chart below from the report shows, out of members of the same year’s graduating high school students in Washington, those who go to college forego earnings compared to non-college attendees for the first five years after high school but that begins to shift in Year Six and becomes more pronounced by Year Seven.

The report, by Toby Patterson and Greg Weeks of the EDRC’s Workforce Data Quality Initiative Project, states, “As the United States emerges from the recession of 2007-2009, post-secondary education becomes important both as a strategy for macroeconomic growth and as a means for individuals to increase their lifetime earnings. Both goals depend upon post-secondary education leading to increased human capital, productivity and earnings.”

The four-year degree earnings premium in the U.S. dropped in the 1940s then rose until another drop in the 70s, after which – adjusted for inflation – it has continued to rise substantially as demand for high-skilled workers has grown, according to scholarly literature cited in the report.

In the the education section of its strategic guide PLAN Washington, our parent organization The Washington Business Alliance (WaBA) sets as one of the three main 2025 education goals for the state that it be among the top 5 nationally in a related but broader measure: percent of population age 25 to 44 that has a post-secondary degree. This refers to either a two-year associates degree, which is typically earned at state community or technical colleges; or to a four-year degree. Right now, Washington ranks 17th nationally.

PLAn Washington accents two key strategies, each with multiple specific recommendations, for achieving 2025 success in K-20 education. These are: align the education system to the 21st Century; and emphasize affordability, access and accountability in postsecondary education. Details here.

WaBA’s data-centric companion to PLAN Washington, Metrics Explorer, has a wider range of measures of success for education and the five other PLAN topic areas. The education section of Metrics Explorer provides more information on the post-secondary degree achievement measure and drills in to 13 other education metrics, most of them comparing Washington to the 49 other states.

Using our Facebook-enabled comment section here, please share your views and experience on the importance of a two-year or four-year college degree. We’d like to know: is it important, and if so, why?