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Higher Education Doesn’t Guarantee Higher Lifetime Earnings

August 5, 2011

Higher Education Doesn’t Guarantee Higher Lifetime Earnings

by Suada Kolovic

Pop quiz: What level of higher education earns the most money over a lifetime? (A) a bachelor’s degree, (B) a master’s degree or (C) a doctoral degree? It seems the obvious answer would be the doctoral degree but according to a recent study, the gap is rapidly closing.

The College Payoff, a report published by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce, revealed that those holding bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime, while those with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees earn $2.67 million, $3.25 million and $3.65 million, respectively. "It's still true that, on average, it's better to get the higher degree; it's better to keep climbing—but it's less and less true," says the center's director, Anthony Carnevale. That being said, the major and industry a student selects is precisely what determines lifetime earnings: Those who pursue bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will earn more, on average, than those with advanced degrees of any level who work in fields like education, sales and community service.

If you’re wondering whether or not earning a college degree at all is worth it, it definitely is. Those with bachelor’s degrees, in any field, will earn vastly more than their counterparts with some college ($1.55 million in a lifetime) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million), indicating that earning a four-year degree is essential to financial success later in life. What do you think of the study’s findings? Are you less likely to pursue a higher degree if the payout is minimal? Weigh in here or via our Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship.


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