If you love facts, then a trip to the Pew Center’s “Fact Tank” is like scuba diving on a coral reef: you never know what fascinating thing might appear.

Pew, by the way, is a non-partisan think tank based in Washington, D.C., providing research on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends.

And it is particularly useful for dispelling the myths that spring up all around us.

Among them is the dangerous notion that it no longer pays to go to college.

This issue really hit the fan in 2012 when Gov. Paul LePage mailed a cartoon to all of the state’s school principals that seemed to poke fun at college-bound students.

The cartoon showed two students, with one identified as going to welding school and the other to college.

The cartoon listed a $50,000 starting salary under the welder and a $25,000 starting salary under the college student. The college student was looking at the welder and thinking, as the thought bubble said, “loser.”

“Folks,” the governor wrote beneath the cartoon, we need to do better and we can do better. Let’s put our children first.”

Although it was never clear exactly what the governor meant, a generous interpretation was that he thought more young people should go to technical school.

But a literal reading said education beyond technical school is, at least financially, a waste of time.

Pew recently released more research on the wisdom of investing in a college education. It compared Census Bureau information from 1984 to 2009, information obtained in the annual “Survey of Income and Program Participation.”

After adjusting for inflation to 2012 dollars, it compared the median adjusted monthly household income for set groups of young people. Median, of course, is the middle number in any sequence of numbers, with half as many incomes being higher and the other half lower.

Remarkably, the data shows the opposite of what many seem to think. According to PEW, “this generation of college grads earns more than ones that came before it.”

For instance, the median adjusted monthly income for households headed by a 25- to 34-year-old with a bachelor degree earned $71,520 back in 1984 compared to $86,784 in 2009.

That’s a significant difference. But look what happened to those with even higher degrees.

Households headed by 25- to 30-year-olds with a master’s degree earned a median of $83,352 in 1984 compared to $103,416 in 2009.

And those with a professional or doctorate degree shot from $84,888 to $124,584. That’s nearly a $40,000 difference.

Now, these rosy numbers do come with caveats. First, they do not account for student loan payments, which are undeniably higher for today’s college grads than previous generations.

They aren’t true for every type of degree or occupation. Some degrees, like in electrical engineering, have appreciated way more rapidly than others.

And the numbers don’t apply equally to every region of the country. In other words, Maine isn’t Connecticut, and wages are always higher in large cities compared to rural areas.

That being said, take a look at what’s happened for the group of young people with less than an associate’s degree, the value of which has held about stable between 1984 and 2009, according to the Pew comparison.

The median income for young people in that age bracket with a high school diploma dropped from $43,044 in 1984 to $36,804 in 2009.

For those with less than a high school education, median incomes dropped sharply from $30,036 in 1984 to $21,396 in 2009.

In adjusted dollars, that income in 1984 would have put a family of four comfortably over the 2012 poverty line of $23,550.

Today, that median income means a family of four lives in poverty.

The message here for young people, and for adults advising their children, is that education does pay in the long run.

Students need to be extra careful to obtain training in a field that is likely to match their income objectives. Plus, students also need to shop hard for schools that are affordable or offer generous aid packages.

But the facts are clear: the value of an education is rising in an increasingly complex world.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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