February 11, 2014

6 key findings about going to college

A new Pew Research Center report on higher education contains a number of findings about the rising value of a college degree (as well as the rising cost of not going to college). College-educated millennials are outperforming their less-educated peers on virtually every economic measure, and the gap between the two groups has only grown over time. Here are six key findings that provide a compelling answer to the question: Is going to college worth it?

1A college education is worth more today. There’s a wider earnings gap between college-educated and less-educated Millennials compared with previous generations.


2College benefits go beyond earnings: In addition to earning more, college-educated Millennials also have lower unemployment and poverty rates than their less-educated peers. They’re also more likely to be married and less likely to be living in their parent’s home.


3College grads are more satisfied with their jobs: College-educated Millennials are more likely to see themselves on a career path, rather than just working at a job to get them by.


4The cost of not going to college has risen.  Millennials with just a high school diploma are faring worse today than their counterparts in earlier generations by almost every economic measure examined.


5College grads say college is worth it:  About nine-in-ten college grads in every generation say college has been, or will be, worth the investment. Despite a steep rise in college tuitions, Millennials agree.


6 College majors matter. Among all grads, science or engineering majors are the most likely to say their current job is very closely related to their field of study and the least likely to say that a different major would have better prepared them for the job they really wanted.


Read the full report: The Rising Cost of Not Going to College

Topics: Education, Educational Attainment, College

  1. Photo of Andrea Caumont

    is the social media editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. christian jerick Go2 years ago

    Fantastic suggestions ! I was fascinated by the information ! Does someone know where my business would be able to get ahold of a fillable IRS 941 document to fill in ?

  2. Jill Colet3 years ago

    I teach jr. high ESL. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to get many of my students thinking about college or, worse, interested in attending college! They struggle with the language and reading and writing. They begin to fail and accept that as the “norm.”
    I printed this article and we broke it down — vocabulary, annotation, peer discussions, summarizing. It’s amazing what information can do to change a person’s attitude. All I had to do was present the facts (that you presented beautifully) and I could feel a change coming our way. Thank you! There’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you may have changed the direction of someone’s life in a positive way. I know college made all the difference for me. I didn’t begin until my mid thirties. I worked full time as a secretary (at the same school where I now teach) and attended school at night for 11 years. It was worth the grind. I love my job and it seems that each year I love it more (I was hired as a teacher here at Sierra Vista in 1996.)

    1. Maria2 years ago

      Congratulations to you too! Your persistence in trying to motivate your students show the value of your job. As an ESL student myself, I truly appreciate the work that teachers like you put into helping students like me. I am currently about to end my first year of college and I know that not many ESL students think like me, but I am confident college will make a difference for me, more than it already did. College is a great experience and although it might get hard sometimes because English is my second language, I know it will pay off. But it is important to mention that I would have never made it to where I am today without the help of three teachers I had who helped me and motivated me the way you are helping and motivating your students! So thank you for your work and keep it up 🙂

    2. Samantha2 years ago

      Jill, you sound like an awesome teacher! The kids are blessed to have you!

    3. kevin2 years ago

      Hi i am a first generation college student/american attending a prestigious liberal arts college. One of things that I struggled with is being motivated to go to college. I knew that college was good in life but I thought passing with Cs would be fine. It was not until I went on college tours did I get motivated. For me Syracuse University in New York was a school that blew my mind during the summer where I was an uprising sophomore in high school. And since that visit I was motivated and wanted to not just pass by with Cs but get As and do well on the SATs because now I have a vision of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to obtain. Even though I did not end up going to Syracuse I do attend in my perspective a better school. But it was very crucial to have college tours to see what is out there to get people motivated especially first generation americans and potential college students.

  3. Betsy3 years ago

    college was the best

  4. narayanan3 years ago

    parents are wasting their time putting in college admissions for their kids and first of all college is optional and not required like high school is.

  5. Amanda3 years ago

    I have been assigned this survey (The Rising Cost of not Going to College) for a research report for a graduate class at the University of Connecticut. Do you have any information on the response rate of the millenials that were contacted by RDD for the study?

  6. james murphy3 years ago

    Yes but poor quality degrees from on line schools are not

  7. Muvaffak Gozaydin3 years ago

    Please do not push everyone to any college .
    Can you imagine the cost of this 25 million people .
    Cost of college for 6 years $ 30,000 x 6 = $ 180,000
    Cost of lost wages for 6 years $ 28,000 x 6 = $168,000
    Total ……………………………………………………..$ 348,000 per person
    Times 25 million = 348,000 x 25,000,000 = $ 8.7 TRILLION

    Please let only enough SAT having people go to GOOD college .
    Rest is waste of mone .

    1. brantvd3 years ago

      Your math may be correct, but your logic is horrible. By your math, the cost of college is $348,000, however you completely forget to offset that by benefit. With a bachelor’s degree, the average increase in annual salary is $17,000. Typically, people are around 22 years of age when they graduate from college, assuming they went straight there from high school. People usually work up to age 62, if not longer now, which means 40 years of work. 40 years of work at an increased wage of $17,000 means an extra $680,000 (or more). Subtract your $348,000 of cost and the net increase is $332,000. I’ll take my extra $332,000 thank you very much, and if you don’t want yours – I’ll take yours too if you don’t mind.

      1. Stelly2 years ago

        hahaha…awesome reply, loved it!

  8. Muvaffak Gozaydin3 years ago

    Some other reports say
    average salary of BA holders is getting 1.2 % lower every year for the last 10 years .
    There are 471,600,000 BA holders in the USA .
    25 million of them ( 60 % ) are holding jobs which can be done by high school graduates .

    I conclude that
    one has to graduate from a good college which supplies skills to its graduates not from any college

    1. Muvaffak Gozaydin3 years ago

      Sorry not 471,600,000 the right number is

      41,600,000 BA holders .

  9. Crystal4 years ago

    How has education or the lack thereof taken the blame for the ever-present wage gap? If one is brought under this illusion, getting a college education can have devastating implications when “it doesn’t pay!”

    On the other hand, each one should do everything within their power to enhance their quality of life, remembering it is NOT what makes you valuable, but has the potential to increase and enhance your value.

  10. Lynn4 years ago

    I met a competent, bright, hard-working 30 year old with a degree in anthropology. She was waiting tables. Her last almost-job was basically entry level for a university for which there were over 250 applicants. She landed in the top three and did not get the job.

    Just an anecdote I thought worth mentioning. There is something still very wrong out there.

    1. Judy Hante3 years ago

      It sounds like she chose the wrong major unless she wanted to get a PhD and teach. Not all college degrees are worth having — there can’t be that many jobs out there for an anthropology major. She should get a teaching credential.

  11. Puffy4 years ago

    The numbers here are a little misleading as the salary mentioned here is for college graduates with a bachelors degree OR MORE. So how much of that extra salary is attributable solely to a bachelors degree? Opinions vary but generally it’s stated as being $1.2 million in 2009.

    So to find whether a bachelors degree is truly “worth it” you’ll need to do some math. At 7% interest, the average $100,000 total cost of a BA/BS degree would be worth $2.1 million at age 67 if it was invested at age 22 rather than spent on a college degree. Your average return would have to fall to 5.7% to equal the $1.2 million in extra income earned because of the degree, in which case it would still be a wash.

    So is the cost of a bachelor’s degree worth it? If you think you can beat an average 5.7% return on your investment then no. If you could manage to get an 8% return you’d be $2 million richer at retirement than the guy with the BS degree. If you think you cannot beat 5.7% or you’re willing to pay to work in a profession that requires that degree then yes, perhaps it is.

    1. Davidwaymire3 years ago

      So let me know when you find someone who will loan you $100,000 with no collateral to stuff into the stock market.

  12. Chris4 years ago

    Here’s a stat I wish you’d published – comparative amounts of debt at age 22 for all three categories. Yes, college allows for higher earning potential, but with the cost of an undergraduate education nowadays, the median undergrad leaves school with almost $30K in debt. I could probably afford to earn a little less if I weren’t paying student loans every month for the foreseeable future. As you said, “college benefits go beyond earnings.” So does some of the argument against going to college.

    You’ve only presented half the story here – that’s lazy, and an unusual sidestep of the whole picture for Pew.

    1. Davidwaymire3 years ago

      I think you are misreading the statistics. The median person who leaves college WITH A LOAN owes $28,000 or so (about the cost of buying a new car…and nobody seems to think twice about borrowing that much for a car). But about half of graduates today have no loans at all…at least at public universities in Michigan.

  13. Sandy4 years ago

    I wish you folks would include vocational and technical training data in your studies. Some folks are not cut out for four years of “seat time” in college classes and/or are not interested in a 4 year college degree. People can be very financially successful/productive with vocational/technical training-education like plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics – the list goes on and on. Those folks can make a ton of money and be very happy, along with not have huge college debt facing them.

    I need a good plumber more than I need a psychologist – though if I don’t get my frozen water pipes fixed soon – I may need a psychologist!

  14. Randy4 years ago

    This report rings true with regards to my personal experience. I’m a retired “middle-Boomer”.

    After having paid for my wife’s last 2 years to finish her BS, our son’s 4.5 years to get his BS, and our daughter (still attending), I would say the findings match my perceptions.

    However, it was not easy to save up the money for 2 and a half Degrees. My conservative standard of living (don’t try to keep up with the neighbors) allowed all of this to happen with no loans.

    For whatever it’s worth…. I planned for this my whole adult life because my divorced and single mother paid for my BS degree in the 1970’s. I don’t know how she did it. It was a gift that I will cherish until I draw my last breath.

    1. 30 Something4 years ago

      It means nothing- but I really loved the story.
      Remember – “Anything you can do, a retired middle boomer can do 2.5 times better, and in a mile of snow each way.”
      Although living conservatively would be a gross undertatement for me and mine, I always did get a lot of sh– from my grandfather, (a Great Depression/WW2/Korea vet who never went to college, but lived better than all of us combined, and with less), for deciding that I wanted to stay in my hometown and live my life here, rather than take his advice and move to the middle of nowhere to escape Cook County and its wicked, bloodthirsty taxes, cost of living, etc. So I guess that would be trying to keep up with my neighbors (and friends & family). Moving out of the city would make it pretty hard to continue to ride a bike and and take public trans, and buying a car again is something I’m hoping to put off until I have children, hopefully.

      I’m pretty sure that my also single, also divorced mother wasn’t holding back on us when she basically lived at work and gave us the clothes off of her back for most of our adolescence. Although there was never a dime for anything at all after the meager roof was kept overhead, and food brought to the table, somehow she managed to make too much at the time, so as to disqualify us from any Fafsa aid. Thats not to say that she didn’t have my back, and fight with me all the way to try to make it happen; That’s not to say that saving for and attending college wasn’t something that WE planned for all of our lives, even before our parents divorced. Quite the contrary- I’m still trying to help my brother make it through, and am still trying to finish myself.
      I wish I had the time and energy to pull corroborating (pew) data for the sake of this argument, something other than my ranting and raving, something that would substantiate & illustrate a little more matter-of-factly that collectively, the rise in cost of living, tuition, college, etc etc etc. and average circumtances these days, make a college education unreasonably difficult to afford, nevermind unreasonably impotent in the reality of the job market and economic Conditions we face as young people. But I don’t.
      For what its worth, for the wealthiest nation in the world, it shouldn’t require the toil and sacrifice of 4 generations of hardworking American family to get someone through college, when everywhere you turn, money is being spewed and bled off wantonly at all sorts of wasteful sh–.
      But I digress, back into cry baby mode. So, since I’m obligated as a millennial to blame someone else for all of
      this, I guess by Randy’s logic, I should blame myself and my family.

      1. Judy Hante3 years ago

        We are in serious need of reform when it comes to the cost of college. Whether the costs just go down or whether there are appropriate tax breaks, I don’t know how it should be done, but we need anyone who is so inclined to be able to go to college. We also need just as much reform for people who go into programs for certifications for jobs that don’t require full college degrees. In this country, it should be affordable to go to college.

  15. Vanessa4 years ago

    I’m interested in why marriage was grouped in with the point on college benefits. The others are pretty self explanatory – most people would want to earn more, avoid poverty and unemployment, and live outside of their parents’ homes, given the choice – but marriage, I’m not so sure.

    It reminds me of the infamous “MRS. degree.” I know that attitude still exists, but haven’t we largely gotten past the idea of people going to college to meet prospective spouses and get hitched?

    1. Richard Fry4 years ago

      It is perhaps subjective to categorize marriage as a “benefit.” But some evidence does indicate that marriage is valued or beneficial. First, let’s let Millennials speak for themselves. According to an Oct 2010 survey conducted by Pew, 70% of unmarried Millennials (without children) want to get married. So marriage is not totally of ill-repute among Millennials. Second, there are some economic benefits associated with marriage. Married persons tend to earn more and there is some evidence, particularly for men, that marriage makes them more productive and leads to higher wages. In terms of wealth, married households tend to be much wealthier than unmarried households. So, while the connection between marriage and education might not be so obvious, there is a basis for it.

  16. Bill Achenbach4 years ago

    1960 HS grad education equivalete to 2014 Coll grad, maybe part of the problem

  17. Jerri Carr4 years ago

    It’s funny the content and quality of reponses by those who have little college education. If you have a college degree then you have most likely read a lot of research, which in turns teaches you how to interpret the data. Quality research or data never generalizes and if particular situations don’t “fit into” the parameters of that data then most likely it’s an exception. Exceptions are often not discussed in data, but as college educated persons, we all know that they exist, but this doesn’t invalidate the data. Also, if one only looks at a college education as a means to make $$$, then likely a college education will not be of much value to those types. A college education inevevitably helps a person become a more well-rounded and quality human being. Often, those who have no interest in making a positive contribution to this world may be better off not wasting their time or money on college. Sad, but it is often true.

    1. Tai4 years ago

      Elitist much?

    2. Jan4 years ago

      Well, what you say sounds like college grads are the only “well rounded and quality human being(s). That’s not necessary true. It’s your bias. There are a great many people who are smart, talented, moral, bearing common sense, as well as tons of crooks and bad people who are highly educated including university administrators or professors.

    3. Cameron3 years ago

      In other words, all college graduates are better than everyone else. Yeah, okay. I hope you’re not as snobby as your comment made you out to be.

    4. Alex2 years ago

      That’s not true at all. I know plenty of college grads that don’t deserve to be looked at in that way. College should not be romanticized. Plenty of people coast through to get that piece of paper. The real skills come from making connections and gaining certificates and qualifications IN school, so you’re not scrambling to get them afterward.

  18. Yoda4 years ago

    To people who think that higher education isn’t worth it: good luck!

    1. Jan4 years ago

      Yeah, good luck to you, too, to think college graduation is everything that makes everyone happy and prosperous.

  19. Tobby4 years ago

    How much research was conducted to consider the impact of the Great Recession on college/high school employment rates? Should there not be some “normalization” of this factor if we are to compare generational differences?

    1. Andrea Caumont4 years ago

      Hi Tobby, I ran your question by researcher Rick Fry, who responds:

      Good questions. The study looked at many labor market outcomes and other economic outcomes. So an in-depth analysis of each particular outcome was not conducted. Care was taken to choose sensible comparison years. As discussed on page 15 of the report, each year marked a year that was four years into an economic recovery (or four years after a business cycle bottom), so temporally they were similar points in the business cycle. However, the vigor of the economy nationally may have been weaker in 2013 than the earlier comparison years.

      Whether some type of “normalization” for economic conditions is appropriate depends on what one is trying to identify. Our purpose was not to identify the “pure impact” of being in a different generation. It is a tricky and not necessarily useful exercise to ask how Millennials would fare in the absence of the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery. Part of the Millennials’ lot is that these young adults are beginning their work lives in the shadow of the Great Recession. We did not try to identify the generational contribution apart from the cyclical effects.

    1. Craig Hohnberger4 years ago

      That was too funny! Good luagh to start the morning.

      Craig Hohnberger

  20. Joe Williams4 years ago

    Ah, yes — college grads make more money, so college must be the cause. NBA players are taller than those not in the NBA, so if you want to be tall, you should definitely play basketball.

  21. Jorge4 years ago

    I make more than double than what this article says a bachelor degree is worth and I only have high school degree, and I am only 26.

    I found that the “school of real life” proved to be more valuable, and so have my employers.
    My wife is a college grad, and it definitely benefited her, so I am not saying its not worth it. However, I would not “live by” this info.

    I believe college has some value, in fact I am actually still in college, but I am in no rush to finish. My resume speaks louder than a piece of paper that cost $50k+. Going to school and working a real job have shown me how much more valuable real experiences are, as opposed to being stuck in a class room during the years where I am able to learn and adapt the most.

    1. RC4 years ago

      @ Michael – Out of curiosity, what do you do vocationally that earns you double the median without a degree at only 26?

    2. BT RIchards4 years ago

      I have a college degree and make 6 figures. Your only point is their data is inaccurate

    3. Jesse4 years ago

      Congratulations. You are an exception. This study is based on averages, and doesn’t say anything about “living by” any of this info. It’s simply relaying information. The fact of the matter is, for the typical young person looking to enter the job market, having a college degree increases their chances of landing a good job.

  22. Michael Musgrove4 years ago

    Some personal thoughts about these reports. They tend to equalize “going to college” and “attending college” with being a college graduate, not to mention one that has thought out their plans for using their education before mailing out applications. Semantics, yes, but as much as the terms are used, I’m not sure the people getting involved think about it nearly enough or are advised of the important differences.

    The people that start college these days are rarely the ones who finish. While that may be due to any number of factors, it’s likely due to not having the abilities to finish in the means of preparedness, both academically, and constitutionally. Face it: not everyone is meant to own a college or graduate degree. If everyone was equal, universities wouldn’t have to be selective in the first place. Getting into university is one thing. Being able to finish is another. The types that do successfully graduate are also the types that go on to successfully complete other ambitions in life, without having their hands held the whole time. Those are the ones aspiring graduates envision being, whether an accurate vision of themselves and their capabilities or not. Pair that skewed introspection with a poor plan, or no plan at all, and the recipe for failure is all but assured.

    The focus, usually from politicians, is that in order to maintain a middle-class lifestyle, a college degree is needed, no matter the cost, no matter who issues the certificate, and no matter in what way it’s meant to be utilized by the holder. The focus is on “the degree,” not the actual educational path, which actually opens the doors, and enables a person’s mind to function at a higher level than simply “attending college.” Unfortunately, that seems to be what most freshmen go in with the plans of–being catered to by valet professors, blaming failure on others when challenged, and ultimately leaving before getting their prize, which is a piece of paper, not an enlightened mind and education for the next level.

    It’s easy to say a college education is worth more, when it’s really the people that have that education that are worth more.

  23. Rob Lewis4 years ago

    What kind of a statement is this?
    “In addition to earning more, college-educated Millennials also have lower unemployment and poverty rates”

    I’m having a hard time imagining a world in which this would not be true.

    1. Phewl MeWunce4 years ago

      Well, yeah. It’s really hard to “earn more” than anybody if you are unemployed.

    2. Nobody4 years ago

      If 5 members of group M earn $100k/year, and 5 are unemployed for year, earning nothing, the average income for members of M will be $50k/year. If all 10 members of group N are employed earning $40k/year, the average income for members of N will be $40k/year. Group M earns more, but group N has lower unemployment. Similarly, one group can have high poverty rates but earn more because the top earners make lots of money.

    3. 30 Something4 years ago

      Great points. Glad I found Ourtime.org, which led me here… Glad there are people in my generation of “entitled crybabies who cant see a challenge through”, who are now subject to a game of rules we didn’t write, who believe that trying to improve things for the overwhelming majority of people in America, and on earth, is not not an impossible task, not a futile and lifelong quest that will probably never see any real fruition. Saw one of the founders letting fly with some real good stuff, tearing it up on Cspan, and it was the first time I could visualize someone from
      My generation eventually in office.
      As another faceless, sharp, resiliant, yet underachieving millenial, who couldn’t manage to stop working full-time long enough, or earn enough, to finish paying their own way through school, it makes one feel pretty bad for the mess OUR kids have waiting for them- that is, if anyone I knew could even afford to have kids and provide them a shred of opportunity in this lifetime, or 5 lifetimes. Thanks, everyone in charge up until now, thanks 1%- Keep selling our future for a buck today, leverage it all away for your personal gain- just be sure to explain to your descendants a few gens away why they live in the fold of the 1% while the rest of society struggles in squalor outside the walls that have been built to protect the have’s from the have nots. I’m born and raised in Chicago, America’s “most livable city” these days, where wealth is polarized like a magnet, public schools in poor neighborhoods close bc they’re “absolutely broke”, while the mayor spends $50M+ of Tax Increment Financing, meant for the benefit of the most blighted neighborhoods, to build a new basketball arena and hotel for priveleged majority kids at a private university; where graft is the norm, no bid contracts are the norm, and Living just enough for the city is the only living most of the population has a chance at. Favelas in America, anyone? Glad I’m working to death and poor in a beautiful city, at least. And No worries, when it costs 20 dollars to eat a pink slime Monsanto hamburger at Micky D’s, and the middle class is an old feel good story of yesteryear, and it all hits the fan, its cool: we’ll all just eat our student loan bills, our concealed carry guns, and the one percent. Bleh, tastes terrible just imagining it. I wonder how things might have been if a rich family had me and my siblings instead…

      1. 30 Something4 years ago

        Oh yeah, and I’m white, btw…

  24. Ed Underwood4 years ago

    The key gap that was largely ignored in this article is the one between how much of the loans are paid off for Gen Xers and Millennials. There is a huge spike in the number of grads still paying on student loans between those two demographics.

    1. Andrea Caumont4 years ago

      Thanks for the comment Ed. There’s actually a lengthy section on student loans in the full report: pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/t…

      One finding you might find interesting:

      “The biggest contrast is among graduates who have paid off their loans compared with those who have not. Fully nine-in-ten (93%) of those who have already repaid all the money they borrowed say that their degree has paid off, compared with only 59% of those who are still in the process of paying them off.”

      1. Jen4 years ago

        Does the report differentiate this for people who went to for-profit vs. non-profit colleges?

        1. Tai4 years ago

          I can’t imagine they do…I hope I’m not offending anyone, but ‘for profit’ colleges (in regards to a 4 year degree from them) are very scammy sounding and seem to be regretted by many of their graduates.