Scholarship News

Is Earning a College Degree Worth It? Study Finds Modest Return for Some

February 10, 2015
by Suada Kolovic
It wasn't too long ago that the majority of Americans agreed that one had to pursue a college degree in order to succeed in the workforce. Unfortunately for millennials, the rate of success after obtaining said degree is no longer so intrinsically tied: According to reports, millions of college students don't graduate, suffer a mismatch between education and employment and are left with massive amounts of debt.

It wasn't too long ago that the majority of Americans agreed that one had to pursue a college degree in order to succeed in the workforce. Unfortunately for millennials, the rate of success after obtaining said degree is no longer so intrinsically tied: According to reports, millions of college students don't graduate, suffer a mismatch between education and employment and are left with massive amounts of debt.

New research suggests that earning a college degree is no longer the surest ticket to the middle class. "'Ticket' implies a college degree is something you can just cash in," said Alan Benson, assistant business professor at the University of Minnesota. "But it doesn’t work that way. A college degree is more of a stepping stone, one ingredient to consider when you’re cooking up your career...It’s not always the best investment for everyone." Benson, along with MIT’s Frank Levy and business analyst Raimudo Esteva, co-authored a new paper examining the value of public university options in California. They found that factors like how long it takes to complete a degree and whether students even make it to graduation can significantly diminish the value of pursuing higher education. Unsurprisingly, the study also found that students who take out loans and don’t graduate on time incur much more debt. All in all, Benson concluded that the investment of a college education is generally better for those who graduate – on time – from a school with healthier resources. (For more on their research, click here.)

Do you think that a college degree is necessary for gainful employment and upward mobility? Share your thoughts in the comments section. And don’t forget to try and fund your education with as much free money as possible – a great place to start is by visiting and conducting a free college scholarship search where you'll get match with scholarships, grants and other financial aid opportunities that are unique to you!

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 on  2/19/2015 2:57:14 PM commented:

I am almost done getting my bachelors. It was not until recently that I found out most Americans do not have a bachelors, and that I am better off going to trade or technical school. I really wish I had known that sooner...

 on  2/16/2015 10:25:39 AM commented:

Unfortunately, employers are still hiring people based solely on the fact that they have a degree. Experience does not count. And college is so terribly expensive that the jobs offered do not pay enough to cover student loans.

 on  2/14/2015 8:20:27 PM commented:

My dad attended CalPoly Pomona and has a bachelor's degree in Business Administration. His current job? A lowly assistant manager at an electronics retail business, where he works long hours and doesn't get paid jack-squat. He's been searching for another job for years, but even with his precious degree, has struck out. Society has brainwashed us all into thinking that a college degree is a golden ticket to the good life. The fact is, it's a gimmick and a waste of time that makes little to no difference to your life. I could go on, but I think I'll stop here for now.

 on  2/14/2015 10:00:42 AM commented:

I have an MBA and can tell you that it didn't land me the job I have in a place where so many people with barely a high school diploma are making 6 figures fixing cars and estimating college damage. The MBA for me was more a personal achievement than a need.

 on  2/13/2015 10:08:42 AM commented:

I don't think college is necessary for some.

 on  2/12/2015 3:23:06 PM commented:

Paying privately for education is a farce your capitalist culture has imposed on you americans. In many places in the world less affluent than the united states, education up to university level is free, or has very low tuition fees. The degree might be worth the job opportunities it affords, but it's certainly not worth the debt you acquire

 on  2/12/2015 12:14:34 PM commented:

I am also a non-traditional student training for what I was doing in the real world when the economy tanked. I was an Office Manager and graphic designer at an advertising agency in a major market. I was forced to move to a smaller market where I was told that my education (tech school), work, and life experience is 100% worthless because it wasn't a degree. Also, don't get me started on the ageism going on in the job market...

 on  2/12/2015 9:10:04 AM commented:

I have been an Associate Degree level RN for 19 yrs and make 100k/yr. My hospital now only hires BSN level nurses or above. But you know what is funny... an ADN is better on the floor because they spent more time doing clinical rotations rather than in the classroom taking statistics, etc. In my ICU, I would much rather work beside an ADN who can actually save your life than a BSN/MSN who will fumble on the floor (but will do a wonderful job making mortality/morbidity statistics graphs after the patient dies). Not to mention, the $500 (before taxes) annual bonus you get for a higher degree (yes, that is the difference in salary between an ADN and a BSN/MSN) will never make up for the thousands of dollars I would have to spend for the higher degree. Higher degree? Not for me.

 on  2/12/2015 12:30:11 AM commented:

I spent five years getting my degree because I was working six days a week. I'm graduating in June debt free. I don't know if my degree well help me get a great job or not, but at least I won't be under the pressure of paying off my degree! In the meantime, at least I've got proof of solid job history and good rapport with my current boss.

 on  2/11/2015 10:34:42 PM commented:

Trust me, as a non-traditional student, life without a degree leaves you with no legs to stand on when faced with stiff competition. A good and solid education is the key to opening far more doors than just a high school diploma. You are free to roam not only the USA but abroad. Make sure you're studying for a profession that you WANT to be in, this will encourage to graduate.

 on  2/11/2015 6:49:16 PM commented:

I do not have a Bachelors degree, but I have been in Management for 20 years and make over 60,000 a year. I have just enrolled in school to earn my bachelors degree in business, I wonder if it is even worth the hassle? I have more experience and knowledge in business management than any new graduate, but they get the bigger paying jobs because of a piece of paper and ZERO experience---this is not right !!

 on  2/11/2015 6:36:41 PM commented:

As a current junior in college, I was sold the idea of pursuing my education. What they don't tell you when you enter college is that to graduate on time, you need to take at least 18 credits (5 or more classes) a semester, not including summer courses, nor if you had more than one major and minor-- which I do. The fact that financial aid only covers you for 8 semesters (or 10 if you are in an EOP program), and most students who go to college are upper middle class and do not receive maximum aid (which doesn't even come close to covering your expenses for a private school, or if you were to live on campus) leaves a huge gap between newer generations and old. Not to mention the baby boomers who are not yet retired and are filling a large number of the job positions millennials are being trained and educated for. Additionally, the fact that as college is becoming increasingly more available to everyone, more people are coming out with degrees, and fewer people are left to fill the blue collar positions that make our society thrive. College is a waste of time and money IMO and this is my last semester as a student. Yay for paying back my debt!!

 on  2/11/2015 5:52:59 PM commented:

I teach high school students about getting a good Return on Investment (ROI) when it comes to college, Budget Before Buying (BBB)your education to make sure the amount you are paying for college is worth the amount you will earn, research your degree and growth of that field of study and how many jobs are available in it which is easy to do at which is the bureau of labor statistics. I also teach kids to pay off their debt while still in school to avoid paying costly interest on the loans and when they graduate, the debt can be drastically reduced. Unfortunately while we are busy teaching kids "Core" or "No Child left Behind" standards, we are forgetting to teach them common sense ( or their parents'). Overall, college is a good investment if you invest smart, just like anything else!

 on  2/11/2015 4:33:14 PM commented:

Went back to school late in life (from 38-45), and completed a B.S. in Business and an M.S. in Real Estate. Now I'm making about 2/3 of what I did before I got the degrees (only about $50k now) and am stuck with $105k in student loans. Not a good deal for me right now.

 on  2/11/2015 4:12:24 PM commented:

I'm 25 now getting my masters and graduated in engineering. At only 22 I came out making $70,000 annually. No offense to anyone but in college we used to say, engineering, nursing, law school, and some business degrees were REAL majors. All others don't take a rocket sciencetist and in return don't make as much. In my case you cannot be an engineer without a degree. Yes, some due come up thru the ranks. But why start at 25,000 and be 35 when you can be 22 starting at $70,000 a year.

 on  2/11/2015 3:54:27 PM commented:

Yes,you need a degree! Don't let media hype and unproven statistics be your excuse for dropping out. Hard work pays off no matter what choice you make but you don't want manual labor to be your only choice for work. Learn from my mistakes. I juggle 2 part time jobs to earn 20k. Wish I had a do over.,

 on  2/11/2015 2:57:17 PM commented:

In my experience, most of the better paying jobs (starting at $40K ) will not accept an application without a college degree. I don't have one, but I have over 180 semester hours of credits. Simply having an education isn't as important to large companies as possessing that piece of paper (college degree). I discovered that skill related fields, where I can prove myself, were the route for me. For example, gaining computer related certs and being good at programming and networking are a great route to go, because they don't necessarily require that piece of paper. Despite that, I am still seeking a degree, because there are higher paying options that will make up the difference of 30K in debt with it. -KP

 on  2/11/2015 2:33:22 PM commented:

I do agree with this article. Unless you really specialize and are a great student college may not be for you.

 on  2/11/2015 2:04:19 PM commented:

I believe this is true. My only question is how can somebody know or forsee that theyll graduate on time? Also, what if there were circumstances that delayed or prevented them to graduate on time? I can tell you that I was in my senior year of nursing school and was dismissed because of what my clinical instructor said. School is just a game...

 on  2/11/2015 1:22:10 PM commented:

Degree is only paper in today's age. Most of people I know with degree still paying off their loans 10-15 years after completion of their education and still not in what they were dreaming during high-school. To tell the truth I know people with master degree making barely 50K and I know people with GED making over 120K. It is really if you want to be successful. Like any business you pick the right industry and be persistent with your education and your work ethics/experience that will bring you satisfaction in your career. If you want to go to collage just to have degree that is wrong approach but the system is banking on it so you can get as many as possible loans so you will be hooked for life.

 on  2/11/2015 12:11:38 PM commented:

I worked in construction, I am female, when the housing market crashed. I was getting older, so I decided to pursue a degree. I am almost finished with my Masters in Accounting, but everyone wants someone with experience. How do you get experience when no one will hire you? (I am 54) How do I go about getting this experience? No one will give me a chance.

 on  2/11/2015 11:54:43 AM commented:

If people would do some research on the job market before choosing their degree path, it would be more beneficial than just "getting a degree". You should not be upset for getting a degree in nutrition and expect to pay off your student loans in few years. Choosing a smart career path should be #1.

 on  2/11/2015 10:52:11 AM commented:

I changed careers at forty-five and earned a bachelors degree in nutrition. I now have the debt of student loan and can't find a job. My question is does employers see persons over forty as an asset or a liability?<br />

 on  2/11/2015 10:22:35 AM commented:

I am currently pursuing my degree online and only taking one/two course a semester as to not incur debt. I have many friends who have graduated with bachelors and with mounds of student loans and have yet to find a high paying jobs, some are making $27k-$30k due to the fact they have no real work experience outside of part time jobs. I have been working in healthcare since out of high school and my degree is applicable towards this field. I'm 23 years old making $35k due to my experience, my degree will allow me to make more but it is my experience that gives me an edge.

 on  2/11/2015 10:15:00 AM commented:

Many people believe that to be successful you need to go to college and at some degree it is true. If you go to college and get some sort of education it gives you a an advantage because you will have more knowledge than the average person who didn't go to college and may be working a minimum wage job. On the other hand there are also a number of people who have become successful and never went to college, so sometimes it does come to mind if you should even go to college or just work then you won't have to pay college <br />debts .

 on  2/11/2015 9:54:21 AM commented:

The problem is in most cases even an entry level job requires a deg in something or they will not return your calls. even with 18 years experience i cannot get employed in my field without a degree. It means I now work at a lower paying job while i go back to school and get an associates. <br />As for student loans that is just stupid. You are stealing from your own future. Is is an incorrect statement to say you cant get an education without debt. I have done it as well as my parents and my brother. Yes it is hard and requires sacrifice but at least i am not giving away money I may or may not ever earn. To walk into the work force/life with debt is a handicap.

 on  2/11/2015 8:53:36 AM commented:

- 32 years old<br />- Admittedly, bounced around majors (and universities) a bit<br />- Graduated 9 years after finishing high school<br />- Bachelor's Degree in Sports and Fitness Studies<br />- Currently making 33k/yr<br />- Student Loan Debt: $80k<br /><br />REALLY regretting getting that degree right about now.

 on  2/10/2015 5:29:51 PM commented:

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 on  2/10/2015 4:44:02 PM commented:

The expectations of obtaining a college degree have grown substantially within the last couple of decades, and with it the idea that a college degree will earn you an increased allowance. However, if the student population would focus a bit different on what actual benefits a degree could offer, instead of expecting higher pay rates, one could expect that the experience you earn during the completion of a degree will take you further than any offered amount of money. A college education should not be attained for the goal of obtaining more money, but for reaching the career opportunities once sought. That is the difference between a job and a career, one for money the other for passion.

 on  2/10/2015 4:37:51 PM commented:

I guess I find humor in this article's conclusions. The statement, "whether students even make it to graduation can significantly diminish the value of pursuing higher education." should give anyone a laugh. Of course if you don't get a degree after going to school for X number of years you won't find it very useful. How many people take out a mortgage and don't own any property? Loans (which many students have) are intrinsically bad for your bottom line unless you receive some benefit from getting one (or many). A college degree is not a get rich quick scheme. It is a key to open more doors that otherwise would have been unavailable to you. That doesn't mean that career paths without a degree cannot be lucrative. A degree merely gives more options, and in theory, more chances for a higher paying salary.

 on  2/10/2015 3:59:08 PM commented:

I recently read statics linked from the fafsa application showing a correlation between average income and amount of education. Not surprisingly the more education the higher the average income. Although, for example, I know a man who never graduated high school or earned a ged. He should be making an average of less than 30k a year, and yet he makes upwards of 100,000 as a hydroelectric electrician, on top of a coast guard pension. I think higher education gives most an edge, but in real world employment, many employers reward excellent individuals and not necessarily their degrees alone.

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