Higher Education: What’s a college degree worth?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-0524_college_graduates.jpgYes, that’s right. The question suggests you’ll get a job, which isn’t the case for many right now!

This week we’re asking these questions because, as I reported on Monday, getting a college degree is more costly than ever. But cost is one side of the value equation. Earnings is the other side.

How much more money do college grads make compared to high school grads? On average, college grads earn $20,000 more a year than high school grads, according to 2010 Census data analyzed by Pew. A college grad who works 40 years earns $550,000 more than a high school grad who works the same four decades. This figure squares precisely with the earnings expectations of college and high school graduates, according to Pew’s survey. College grads estimate that they will earn $20,000 a year more than high school grads; those with a high school education expect to earn $20,000 less than college grads.

These are averages. Averages say so much and so little at the same time. If my right hand is in a blazing fire and my left in a deep freezer, on average my temperature is fine. Some high school grads make a ton of money; some college grads don’t make much at all. But the average earnings dividend of a college education is nothing to sneeze at.

That is, assuming a new college grad gets a job in the first place. Many college graduates in the last few years felt lucky to get any kind of paying job. I know graduates who, despite earning high grades at top universities, had to take jobs at the minimum wage. Hordes of grads couldn’t find the good-paying jobs their elder brothers and sisters found, and instead took work in the nonprofit sector. Applications to AmeriCorps and Teach for America are at record numbers. And, to the chagrin of many American parents, their college grads are returning to live back home.

If you’re a recent college grad, what choices did you make?

If you’re a parent of a college grad, what was your experience?

Is high school enough formal education in today’s economy?

(Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values. Photo of college graduates courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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