What’s A College Diploma Worth? Why Higher Education Matters

Career College Central summary:

  • College continues to be a good investment—a fact that is consistent and convincing on virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment. For starters, the earnings gap between Millennials (young adults ages 25 to 32) with and without a college degree has stretched to its widest level in nearly half a century. This is based on The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center, plus Pew’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
  • Pew Research found that Millennials with a college degree who are working full time earn about $17,500 more annually than those with just a high school diploma ($45,500 vs. $28,000). This 38 percent earning advantage is double what it was in 1965, when the inflation-adjusted earnings gap between high school and college grads was just $7,449. It also continues well beyond early adulthood and first-time jobs.
  • While salaries across all education levels generally increase as workers age, a 2012 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce called The College Payoff found that adults with bachelor’s degrees enjoyed a significantly larger boost to their earnings levels over time. For example, college graduates ages 40-44 earn, on average, 50 percent more than when they first started working; in contrast, workers ages 40-44 with a high school diploma only earn, on average, 25 percent more after 20+ years in the workforce.
  • Over the course of a 40-year career, this can translate into significant money. Today, college graduates can expect to bring in $2.3 million during their lifetimes versus $1.3 million for high school graduates only. In other words, bachelor’s degree holders currently earn 74 percent more over the span of their working years than those with just a high school diploma.

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