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Why College is Still a Good Investment

There are many ways to put a value on a college degree. Along with credentials, students can get a wealth of new knowledge, sharper critical thinking skills, work experience, networking opportunities and exposure to a world of new ideas and perspectives. Having that degree in hand can help get you in the door and provide you with the confidence you need to land an opportunity.

But for all these benefits, does having a degree help graduates earn more money over the course of their working lives? Is getting a degree still worth the investment of time and money?

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics supports the long-held notion that a college education is still a good investment in your future. Take a look at the bar graph below.

Chart: Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment level.
Click for full-sized image.

The data is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Surveys from 2012. The Current Population Survey is a monthly survey of 60,000 American households. It represents approximately 110,000 members of the labor force who are over 25 years of age.

Salary by degree. Ultimately, you get out of your career and your life what you put into it. Still, it’s hard to deny the data. Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn a whopping 63% more, a median salary of $1,066 per week compared to workers with a high school diploma, who earned a median salary of $652 a week.

Add a master’s degree, and the median salary rises to $1,300 per week. That’s double than those surveyed with only a high school diploma. Factored over a 45-year career, the difference in wages and benefits can improve your return on investment significantly and make going back to school seem like a pretty worthwhile pursuit.

Unemployment outlook. Unemployment is more than just financially draining; it can negatively affect confidence, motivation and even health, and even contribute to anxiety and depression, according to the American Psychological Association*. High school grads experience nearly twice the unemployment (at 8.3 percent) of those who hold a bachelor’s degree (4.5 percent). Unemployment continues to decrease steadily with every increase in education level until workers achieve a doctorate degree. However, the employment rate of those with doctorates only drops 4 percent compared to a professional degree.

Here’s some incentive to finish what you start. Salaries and unemployment rates also appear to favor those who finish their degree over those who have just some college experience but no degree. Workers with an associate’s degree make 6.5% higher weekly salaries and experience 1.5% less unemployment than those with only some college experience.

Some college experience is still better than none. Workers who attended college but did not finish a degree earned a median of $727 per week (11% more) and experienced .6 % less unemployment compared to those with only their high school diplomas to recommend them.

*Source: American Psychological Association. Psychological Effects of Unemployment and Underemployment. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from

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