Just the Facts: Is a College Degree Worth It?

You've probably asked yourself if college is worth it. Getting a college education takes time and money, and it might not even guarantee you a job in your field. You’ve read about the millionaire college dropouts who have founded your favorite sites like Facebook, Spotify, and Tumblr. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are stories of people like this Boston College Law School student who, before even graduating, wanted his money back due to the bleak outlook for his postcollege life.

If you've been scanning headlines recently, you may have seen reports of high unemployment for fresh college graduates due to the difficult job market, especially in oversupplied fields such as law. Plus, going to college may mean owing an average of $26,600 in student loan debt, according to a 2012 report released by the Institute for College Access and Success.

Given these messages, you may wonder if college degrees are worth the time, money, and sweat anymore. In the long run, the numbers still say, “yes.”

You may wonder if college degrees are worth the time, money, and sweat anymore. In the long run, the numbers still say, 'yes.'

Fact #1: College Grads Get Paid More

College graduates earn more than high school graduates. Yearly median income for those with bachelor's degrees is about twice as much as high school graduates, and 22 percent more than associate-degree holders. Over a lifetime, those who have a bachelor's degree make roughly $1.1 million more than those who just have an associate's degree or some college, according to a Georgetown University report on job projections and educational requirements for the next few years. The study also states that college grads are more likely to receive on-the-job training from their employers, which can increase pay over time.

Fact #2: More Jobs are Requiring Degrees

More than ever, people are getting college degrees. This means employers are more likely to be looking for employees with degrees, even for jobs that didn't used to require them such as clerks in law firms. In some cases, it also pays to have a master's degree, as jobs requiring them are expected to grow the fastest. On the other end, jobs that require only a high school diploma—such as production and office and administrative support staff—will continue to be reduced, due to outsourcing or mechanization through computer technology and the Internet.

Fact #3: Degree-Holders are Less Likely to be Unemployed

Jobless rates are higher for those without a college degree, especially in tough economic times. In May 2013, seasonally adjusted unemployment rates stood at 11.1 percent for those without a high school diploma, 7.4 percent for those with a high school diploma, 6.5 percent for those with an associate’s degree or some college, and 3.8 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. This discrepancy is expected to continue, as jobs that require postsecondary schooling increase while jobs that don’t require a degree decrease.

Fact #4: Education Leads to Jobs in Growing and Better-Paying Industries

With a college degree, you can get a better paying job. The U.S. will add an estimated 20.5 million jobs between 2010-20, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the fastest growing jobs will be in the health care, personal care and social assistance, and construction industries. It's true that some of these jobs do not require degrees, but the pay difference between jobs that require a degree versus those that don't is pretty sizeable. For example, median salaries for home health aides, food workers, and truck drivers—jobs that do not require degrees—range between $17,950 and $37,770. Those with postsecondary schooling including associate degrees or higher—such as nurses and teachers—would earn a median salary of more than $50,000.

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