How Much More Do College Graduates Earn Than Non-College Graduates?
Studies prove, time and again, that college-educated workers earn more than those with only a high school diploma. College graduates often enjoy additional benefits, including greater job opportunities and promotions. Though the proof for greater earning potential exists, some might wonder whether the cost of the education warrants the overall expense in the long run.
College Graduate vs. Non-Graduate Earnings
The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) analyzes employee earnings data biennially, according to education level. Findings indicate that workers with a college degree earn significantly more than those without. Since the mid-1980s, education has played a large part in potential wages, with bachelor's degree holders taking home an average of 66% more than those with only a high school diploma do. While college-educated workers' wages have increased over the past two decades, those with only a high school education have seen decreases in annual salaries in the same time period (nces.ed.gov).
The Cost of a Degree vs. the Potential Payoff
Considering the high cost of a college education, potential students may question whether the expected earnings after graduation outweigh the possible debt incurred from student loans. In 2002, the Census Bureau projected lifetime earnings of employees with a bachelor's degree and those without. Non-degree holders could expect to earn 75% less than a bachelor's degree holder, who could expect to earn $2.7 million over their lifetime.
Types of Degrees vs. Annual Salaries
The NCES' Digest of Education Statistics differentiates between median employee income based on level of education. In general, 4-year college graduates took home higher median salaries than those with a high school education. However, the type of college degree and gender of the degree holder also impacted earnings, as shown in the table below:
|Type of Degree||Annual Median Salary (2011)||Gender|
|High school diploma||$40,050||Men|
|High school diploma||$30,010||Women|
|College with no degree||$47,070||Men|
|College with no degree||$34,590||Women|
Occupations With the Highest Salaries
Many white-collar occupations require applicants to hold at least a 4-year degree, and some require more advanced degrees. In a 2013-2014 report, PayScale.com provided salary information for top-paying occupations based on employees that held only a bachelor's degree. All schools across the nation were included in the poll, and posted earnings incorporated full compensation, such as bonuses and other financial benefits. A sample of the top 10 highest-paying occupations by undergraduate major includes:
|Occupation||Entry-Level Median Salary||Mid-Career Median Salary|
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