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Massachusetts has highest educated workforce in the country: Report

Half of workers here hold a four-year degree — a first for any state in the U.S.
Half of all workers in Massachusetts have a bachelor's degree or higher, according to a new report. iStock

Massachusetts has the most educated workforce in the country, according to a new report — how do like them apples?

Half of all Massachusetts workers had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, according to a report published Wednesday by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

That makes Massachusetts the first state in the nation to reach a level where 50 percent of its workforce has four-year-degrees. That percentage has grown recently, up from just 20 percent of the workforce here having a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1979.

Nationwide, 35.5 percent of the workforce had a four-year degree in 2016.

Higher education also brings higher wages, the report found, meaning that Massachusetts also has the highest median hourly wages in the country. New Jersey follows in second place for both the amount of workers with degrees (about 45 percent) and the highest median wages.

However, the gap between high and low-earning workers in the commonwealth is widening, the report found.

In Massachusetts, hourly wages for workers with a four-year degree are nearly double those of workers who did not attend college. That has also increased since 1979, when those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned about 50 percent more than those without.

The growing cost of college is holding people back, according to the report, and only increasing that wage divide as earnings stay stagnant for those without a four-year degree.

“Expanding access to higher education can benefit both individual students and the overall state economy, as workers with a college degree earn more than those without,” the report reads. “But the cost of attending college has been increasing steadily, and more students are taking on ever-increasing debt to pay those costs.”

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center is a nonprofit that does nonpartisan research and analysis on state budget, taxes and economic issues that affect those of low- and moderate-income.

There’s a “tight correlation” between bachelor’s degrees and earnings, the report says. But there’s also a correlation between higher college costs and the reduction of state funding for higher public education.

The report concludes that for “Gateway Cities,” areas that anchor regional economies but where residents face their own social economic challenges, community colleges are a way to provide that public education funding and bridge the education/wage gap.

“Completing community college and earning a two-year associate’s degree leads to higher income than attending college without completing. Earning a bachelor’s degree has even greater benefits,” the report reads. “Whether students end their studies after earning their associate’s or go on to enroll in a four-year degree program, it’s clear that community college can play a significant role in the success of Massachusetts high school graduates, particularly from those Gateway Cities.” 

 
 
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