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What is a College Degree Worth?

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A college degree has long been considered the golden ticket to success in life. High schools and parents constantly reinforce the importance of obtaining a college degree to the young adults in their life. With the rising costs of tuition, room and board and meal plans, the question remains: is a college diploma worth the time and investment? Will a college degree provide a job seeker with an advantage over other competitors in the job market?

 According to a report released by the US Census Bureau, there is a correlation between higher education and work-life earnings. The Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings report showed that education had more effect on work-life earnings than other demographic factors, such as race, gender and Hispanic origin. For example, a Hispanic male worker who has a professional degree is expected to make $3.1 million over a 40-year work-life, whereas someone with an eighth grade level of education or lower will make $977,000.

The report shows that factors such as race, Hispanic origin, gender, citizenship, English-speaking ability and geographic location influence work-life earnings, though none of these characteristics has a greater impact on earnings than education. For two people who are alike in all ways but education, the estimated annual difference in life earnings between a professional degree and an eighth grade education was about $72,000. This analysis reflects a strong correlation between education and earnings.

This report also shows that even women in the most advantaged race groups earn less than men, in the most economically disadvantaged race groups. Generally, Asian men and women with a Bachelor’s degree or higher had greater returns on higher education than blacks or Hispanics of either gender. So what does this mean to a recent high school graduate? And what does this mean for a working professional considering college? Is the struggle really worth it? At least in economic terms, the answer is yes. The relationship between higher education and work-life earnings does have a positive correlation.

Tiffany Julian, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, US Census Bureau

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