The Value of a College Degree

As students pursue the ever-confusing and oh-so-grueling college search most are trying to answer the usual questions: Where? When? How much? They're also facing another question that seems to be getting increased attention lately: Is it worth it?

Consider the Benefits

A major benefit of attending college is increased employment prospects. Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a study on how college grads have fared during the Great Recession (and its slow recovery). Data presented in "The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm" show that almost four out of every five jobs lost from December 2007 to January 2010 belonged to workers with no formal postsecondary education. And the job gains during the recovery have not been returned to those workers; they went to those with a bachelor's degree or at least some postsecondary training. In fact, jobs have continued to disappear for those with a high school diploma or less.

In short, you're more likely to find employment if you go to college.

College grads also tend to make more. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, over a lifetime of work, the typical college graduate earns $650,000 more than the typical high school graduate. The study also found that college graduates have more stable employment.

The survey states that 86 percent of college grads found college worth the cost.

The Rising Value of Education

Educated workers are becoming increasingly valuable for two reasons:

  • Many lower-skilled jobs are being shipped overseas, and computers do much of the mundane, repetitive work now. What's left are more complex tasks that require people to solve problems and work together, according to Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • Skills that used to be reserved for senior technical people or managers are more and more required of everyone, says Carnevale. It's less a matter of standing in front of a machine and doing the same thing over and over again and more about exploiting the machine, interacting with customers and interacting with your co-workers.

As a result, workers across a range of occupations need better communication and problem-solving skills than they used to.

College-educated people not only tend to have higher earnings than people without degrees, they are also more likely to have health and retirement benefits with their jobs, and they are far less likely to be unemployed. And having a degree is not just about economic advantages. People with college degrees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.

Lifetime Earnings Benefit

As Figure 1 shows, median lifetime earnings rise steadily for workers with increasing educational attainment.

Lifetime Earnings Benefit Bar Chart