The Value of a College Degree

It’s been imprinted on the brains of millions of teenagers that the best way to make money in life is to earn a college degree.

The College Board conveniently reminds us all of this with its periodic releases about the financial value of a degree. Over a lifetime, for instance, the typical person with a bachelor’s degree will earn about 60% more than someone with just a high school diploma. In dollars that adds up to about $800,000.

Someone with a master’s degree will earn twice as much per year as a high school graduate, while those with professional degrees will earn three times as much money.

Perhaps families have found these stats comforting as they have watched in disbelief as the price tag of these valuable degrees continues to soar. If so, The Wall Street Journal ran a story this week that parents and teenagers will find downright discouraging.

Here’s the gist of the article: For decades, the typical college graduate’s salary increased well above inflation, but it no longer does. Since 2001, the wages of the typical worker with a bachelor’s degree was stagnant. In fact, on an inflation-adjusted basis, the salary was 1.7% below the 2001 wage.

Interestingly enough, the weekly wage of a high school graduate dipped .8%. Only people with professional degrees and doctorates fared better. Their salaries increased 4% and 3.6% respectively.

People who earn college degrees, however, do enjoy non-monetary benefits. As this story in InsideHigherEd.com illustrates, college graduates are more likely to vote, volunteer, exercise and enjoy better health.

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