TRENTON — By the year 2020, 29 percent of jobs in New Jersey will require a bachelor's degree — tied for the highest percentage among all the states. An additional 13 percent of jobs will require a master's degree or higher.

Graduate receiving a diploma, close-up of hands
Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay, ThinkStock

Over a lifetime, bachelor's degree holders are expected to earn about $1 million more than those with no education past high school.

Those statistics from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, along with many others, take center stage Thursday at the annual higher education symposium hosted by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. The primary focus — the value of a bachelor's degree, an issue commonly debated in the face of more than $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt nationwide.

"It really is the ticket to prosperity and economic well-being," Michael Klein, NJASCU's executive director, told New Jersey 101.5.

Statistics from the Federal Reserve, Klein noted, show the median annual wage for a recent college graduate was $43,000 in 2016, compared to a median annual wage of $26,000 among those with only a high school diploma.

A report released in August by Lend EDU recorded an average debt load of more than $28,000 among graduates of New Jersey colleges and universities, slightly higher than the national average.

While that is a sizeable amount of money owed after graduation, Klein said, one can make an investment in their career for the price of a new car.

About 50 percent of New Jersey's adults have attained a degree past high school or an industry-valued credential. It's the state's goal to bump that figure to 65 percent by the year 2025 — another topic of discussion on the agenda for Thursday's symposium.

"We need to get the educators, the employers, government all working together to really look for the opportunity to boost the number of people who have some training, education beyond high school level," said Jeffrey Stoller, assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. "Because that's really what the requirements of the economy are going to be and we want to keep pace with that economy."

Stoller said millions of new jobs being created nationwide require education or training beyond high school, while just tens of thousands can be filled by those with only a high school education.

Klein said the event in Trenton also takes on the need for regulatory reform, looking at ways to cut through red tape that keeps higher education institutions from having more control over procurement and construction.

Decades-old standards are a poor fit for 2017, Klein said. New Jersey's public research institutions, for example, can award construction contracts based on a number of factors that will result in the most advantageous outcome for the school. State colleges and universities, though, must opt for the lowest bidder and consider no other factors.

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