March 7, 2012

The Monetary Value of a College Education

$650,000

The typical college graduate earns an estimated $650,000 more than the typical high school graduate over the course of a 40-year career.

The typical college graduate earns an estimated $650,000 more than the typical high school graduate over the course of a 40-year career, according to an analysis of census and college expense data.

The average high school graduate with no further education earns about $770,000 over a 40-year work life. The average worker with a bachelor’s degree and no advanced degree earns about $1.4 million.

This earnings gap doesn’t apply in all cases — some high school graduates are high earners, and some college graduates are low earners. Also, the monetary return from attending college is influenced by a variety of factors, including the type of college attended and student’s major field of study.

The upfront costs associated with getting a college degree (namely time and money) are balanced against this earnings differential. When the costs of attendance and foregone earnings are subtracted from the income benefits over the course of a lifetime, the net “payoff” from getting a college degree is still quite substantial. For a typical student who graduated from an in-state, four-year public university, the analysis pegs the net gain at about $550,000.

This figure masks wide differences in earnings depending on the college graduate’s course of study. Earnings tend to be much higher for majors requiring numerical competencies (computer science, engineering, etc.) than other fields of study (education, liberal arts, etc). For example, the estimated career earnings of a typical worker with a bachelor’s degree in education and no advanced degree are about $950,000, only $180,000 more than that of a typical high school graduate. Read More