“To be successful and make good money, you must have a college degree.”
You’ve probably heard some version of that declaration since you were old enough to understand words. So, you grew up figuring you’d go to college.
But now that you’re grown up and it’s time to start looking at which university or college you’ll attend after graduation, you realize: higher education is way expensive. Haven’t we all heard the stories—which right about now might be starting to seem scarier than a horror flick—about college graduates who get good jobs that might as well be minimum wage gigs because most of their paychecks go toward paying off student loans—for a decade?
And to pile on even more, lately everyone’s dream employers—Apple, Google and Netflix, to name a few—have stopped requiring a degree to get in the door. Apple’s Tim Cook estimates about half of his U.S. workforce doesn’t have a four-year degree—and he also doesn’t think higher ed teaches the skills business leaders need the most.
So, you could be forgiven for wondering why you should waste four-plus years and a ton of money you might never earn back when you can just jump into a great job right after high school. After all, if the CEO of the most successful company in the known universe is saying it might not be worth it go to college anymore, who are you to say he’s wrong, right? RIGHT???
Actually…not quite. In fact, it turns out that earning a college degree really, truly does pay off. And not just in your eventual paycheck, but in less visible ways that benefit those around you, from your local community to the world at large.
Here are some real-world numbers and facts to ponder as you consider what your next move should be once you have your high school diploma in hand. (Sources appear at the end of this article.)
All the Numbers
- College graduates earn an average of $78,000, while those with a high school diploma alone earn $45,000. That’s an annual wage premium of $33,000.
- Take a look at the financial advantage of a college degree in this Bureau of Labor Statistics breakdown of median weekly earnings by education level:
- $712 with a high school diploma
- $774 with some college, but no degree
- $836 with an associate degree
- $1,173 with a bachelor’s degree
- Those who earn a four-year degree will earn an average of nearly $2.3 million in their lifetimes—84% more than those with a high school diploma only.
- A college graduate is 177 times more likely than a high school graduate to earn $4 million or more during his or her lifetime.
- Millennial workers with a high school diploma can expect to earn only 62% of what the typical college graduate earns.
- A 50-year-old college graduate earns an average yearly salary of $56,000, while a 50-year-old high school-only graduate earns an average yearly salary of $29,000.
- Workers who hold a bachelor’s degree are half as likely to be unemployed as workers with just a high school degree.
- When unemployment was at its highest in 2010 (during the Great Recession), the unemployment rate for recent college graduates was 6.9%, compared with 15.8% for all young workers.
- Today’s jobless rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is 5%.
- 99% of jobs created since the Great Recession went to people with at least some post-high school education.
- Bachelor’s degree holders are 5 times less likely to fall into poverty as those who hold a high school diploma.
Quality of Life
- If you have a bachelor’s degree, you’re 47% more likely to have health insurance through your job—and your employer will contribute 74% more to your health care.
- Studies suggest that those who attend at least some college could live seven years longer than those with no post-high school education.
- College graduates are more likely to own homes; three-quarters of bachelor’s degree holders are homeowners, compared to 64% of those with high school diplomas.
- In a time when pension plans are mostly history, college graduates are more likely to contribute to a 401(k)-type retirement plan. Even when high school graduates and college graduates had similar plan access and incomes, the college grads contributed 26% more to their retirement plans.
- Since companies tend to cast a wider recruiting net for high-skilled jobs, college graduates are more likely to have the opportunity to move to find work than those with a high school-only education.
- Over a lifetime, the average bachelor’s degree holder will contribute $278,000 more into their local economy than workers with only a high school diploma. They’ll also contribute $44,000 more in state and local taxes, and $771 more in annual charitable donations.
- Workers who earn a four-year degree can lift wages for other workers. It’s been found that a 1% increase in the college-educated workforce increased wages:
- 2% for those who did not complete high school
- 3% for high school graduates
- 2% for those who completed some college
- Bachelor’s degree holders average $1,304 per year in charitable donations, compared to the $533 contributed by those with a high school diploma—a good example of how a degree can help you have a more positive impact on your local community/economy.
- 3% of bachelor’s degree holders volunteer for local causes and organizations, compared with 17.4% of high school graduates and 28% of those with some college.
- According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics, women with college degrees have an 8 in 10 chance of their first marriage lasting 20 years—double the odds for women with high school diplomas.
- The average rate of return for those who earn a bachelor’s degree is 14%—better than the return on investment for stocks (which average 7%) or bonds (average 3%).
- A Business Insider/Morning Consult survey showed that 64% of millennial graduates who had paid off their student loans felt earning their degree was worth it. 48% of those still paying off their loans agreed.
- The three states with the narrowest salary gaps between college graduates and high school-only graduates are North Dakota (38%), Vermont, (42%) and Montana (50%). The three states with the widest salary gaps are Washington, DC (167%), California (133%) and New York (103%). Michigan’s salary gap is 93%.
Of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story. Because while you certainly could step straight out of high school into the high-paying job of your dreams, the odds are slim unless your dream job is an electrical power-line installer or a construction rigger. Both are honorable jobs performed by hard-working people every day, but the fact is they’re tough and physically demanding in a way that not everyone is cut out for.
However, statistics can tell you enough of the story to help you realize that maybe college is the place you want to be after all. Not just so you’ll earn more money—although that’s definitely a nice incentive—or get a cushy job in a comfortable air-conditioned office.
College is where you go to find yourself—and more often than not, the you who comes out with your degree, ready to take on the world, is not the same you who went in four years earlier. During those years, you’ll find friends, mentors, knowledge and inspiration that will help you lay the foundation for a happy, secure and fulfilling future.
And trust us, there’s nothing more priceless than that.
If you’re searching for the you that you want to be, we invite you to learn more about Rochester University in your college search. Here at Rochester University, you’ll achieve the academic excellence, global awareness, character and leadership you need to succeed in a changing, exciting and inspiring world.
“How Much Is a College Degree Worth?” by Alison Doyle, thebalancecareers.com, June 25, 2019.
“How does a college degree improve graduates’ employment and earnings potential?” by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, aplu.org, undated.
“Pay gap between college grads and everyone else at a record,” by Christopher S. Rugaber, usatoday.com, January 12, 2017.
“The Economic Impact of College Degrees,” by Abi Tupa, collegepossible.org, August 23, 2018.
“Is College Worth It? Going Beyond Averages,” by Douglas Webber, PhD, thirdway.org, September 18, 2018.
“New York Fed Says College is ‘Worth It’ Albeit With Caveats,” by Shelly Hagan, Bloomberg.com, June 11, 2019.
“Going to college is one of the best investments you can make—even if it doesn’t feel like it,” by Andy Kiersz, businessinsider.com, June 6, 2019.
“Nearly half of indebted millennials say college wasn’t worth it, and the reason why is obvious,” by Hillary Hoffower, businessinsider.com, April 11, 2019.
“College grads still earn more than workers with no university degree. This map shows the states with the widest salary gaps,” by Allana Akhtar and Andy Kiersz, businessinsider.com, July 15, 2019.
“20 jobs you can get with a high school diploma,” by CareerBuilder, careerbuilder.com, June 23, 2017.