Today, as always, those seeking to advance themselves economically seek an edge, a key to unlock the door to greater financial security and a better life. 

In our modern information- and technology-driven economy, that key quite often comes in the form of a college degree.  

Consider the results of a study reported earlier this year by the Pew Research Center. As part of Pew’s ongoing Social and Demographic Trends project, researchers surveyed 2,002 adults and supplemented the results with economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The survey’s findings were striking, noting “on virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment … young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education.” 

The survey, for instance, found graduates between the ages of 25-32 with at least a bachelor’s degree earned a median annual salary of $45,500, exceeding the median yearly earnings of those with no education beyond a high school diploma by $17,500. 

Those greater earnings also translated into significantly lower poverty rates and greater job satisfaction among college graduates. 

Seeing such proven benefits, policymakers, including President Barack Obama, and educational policy organizations, like the American Association of Community Colleges, have called on institutions of higher education to increase substantially the number of students who not only attend college, but also complete the meaningful college credentials valued in today’s workplaces. 

At Waubonsee, we’ve answered the call through our Project Graduation initiative. The project has included steps such as completing articulation agreements and other partnership programs with many universities including Northern Illinois University, Governors State University, DePaul University and Roosevelt University, while also examining our curriculum and academic support processes. 

These efforts have played a large role in boosting the number of our students earning a degree or certificate by 60 percent from 2009 to 2013. 

Recent studies demonstrate the value of completing an associate degree both in the employment marketplace and in the pursuit of a more advanced education. 

Achieve, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving college and career readiness among young Americans, has projected that 45 percent of future job openings will demand the “middle skills” of those with less than a bachelor’s degree, but more than a high school diploma. 

And for those who desire to complete a baccalaureate or more advanced degree, first completing an associate degree could make all the difference. 

Last month, The Community College Research Center at Columbia University reported that, of all students transferring to four-year colleges, those who first earned an associate degree were 49 percent more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree within four years and 22 percent more likely to complete their bachelor’s within six years. 

While proud of the results we have achieved thus far, our Waubonsee team understands there is still much progress yet to be made. We continue to partner with institutions here at home and nationwide to achieve our common goals of meeting our nation’s economic and workforce needs, both now and for the future. We remain focused on student success and helping our students go as far as their skills, education, tenacity and perseverance will carry them.