Does a College Degree Really Pay Off? – Guest Post

by Ryan

You hear it over and over again: a higher education leads to better paying careers and financial stability. Now, at a time when even the most experienced and educated individuals remain unemployed after the recent massive economic downturn, many are calling that belief into question. Jobs are scarce and money is tight, causing new high school graduates to wonder whether or not it is worth the investment to pursue a college degree. But despite the rapidly changing job climate, surveys are showing that a college education is still paying off as long as you know which degrees to earn.

A college education provides graduates with industry-specific knowledge as well as a better understanding of general topics, such as mathematics, foreign languages, and humanities. A student typically majors in a field that he or she hopes to pursue as a career. College acts like a vocational school in this sense, training students to enter into a particular field upon graduation. Yet, college is not a vocational school because unlike vocational certification, graduates can adapt their degrees to meet the needs of various employers in different fields. The job competition is tough; more applicants with an education and experience are vying for the same positions, so it is actually more important than ever to have a degree just so you can be a worthwhile contender for the job. Employers are more likely to hire those with degrees just because they can afford to be picky now, even if the position does not officially require a college education.

college-degree

In addition to a college degree offering a better chance of landing a job, those with college degrees tend to earn more than those who only have a high school diploma. In 2009 (the most recent data available), associate degree holders earned $135 more per week than those with a diploma and bachelor’s degree holders earned about $399 more per week than those with a diploma, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that in a course of a 50-week work year, associate degree holders earned up to $6,750 more than high school graduates and bachelor’s degree holders earned up to $19,950 more than high school graduates. This trend continues upward, meaning that the higher the degree, the more money the individual typically makes.

Yet, a degree’s value is not determined solely by how much money one could make with it. Variables like how much schooling costs and the likelihood of employment also factor into whether or not a college degree pays off. Associate and bachelor’s degrees typically offer substantial returns that eclipse the financial earnings of high school graduates. As these degrees require a relatively short period of schooling, usually two to four years, there is not as much financial and time investment as with graduate degree programs, which require an additional three to four years of schooling. The option of saving money by earning these degrees in community colleges also cuts down on the expenditures for the degree. All in all, associate and bachelor’s degrees are almost guaranteed to pay off.

However, if you are considering enrolling in a private college, which would be substantially pricier, it is best to stay away from majors like education and liberal studies if your chief concern is money, as these typically offer lower returns and can actually cost you money in the long run rather than make you money. Graduate degrees are the same; though a master’s and doctoral degree can help you earn a bigger salary, it also requires more of a financial investment, which can overshadow your future earnings according to an article in MSN Money. Only professional degrees like law and medicine offer a big chance of substantial returns for graduate schooling.

This does not mean that you should never earn a higher degree in liberal studies or education, but it does mean that those who do earn such a degree should do so out of passion and not out of a desire for financial gain. In most cases, an associate and bachelor’s degree are well worth the time and money, whereas graduate degrees are not, unless you are pursuing a professional degree in law or medicine.

Reades, what do you think? Are you attending college or considering going back to school?

Have you already graduated? What are your thoughts on the value and “pay off” of a college degree?

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Samurai November 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Ryan, is this you? Are you back? Where’d you go?
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..Living Vicariously Through You =-.

Daniel Johnston November 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

It is my personal belief that there are three different ways to go about it: 1. Get a job out of high school 2. Start your own business 3. Go to college (and possibly graduate school) and get a job after.

To me, number 2 is the most attractive option, as I’m young, that’s the one that I’m pursuing, and the one chosen by both Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

However, if one has the option between 1 and 3, I think 3 is definitely better if you can afford it. Even if you only get a bachelor’s degree, that still should increase your income greatly over if you only are a high school graduate.

I’ve heard that people with a bachelor’s degree, depending on the field, typically make $25-35 an hour, while those with a college degree make between $12-19 an hour.

However, as you said, the cost of college is becoming so expensive, and now bachelor’s degree’s are not being put into use (especially if you decide to pursue a different career than you graduated in, which often happens), so it definitely will have to go on a case by case basis, the college that person might go to, their skills, and whether they want to start a business.

I have to add that I also think it’s ridiculous that some people think they need a degree to start their own business. Some of the most successful people (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, etc.) had no training whatsoever.

Zach Myers November 23, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I would hold that a college major is well worth it if one can figure out, in a reasonable amount of time, what an enjoyable and profitable major is. I’m currently hoping to do this by creating a one business-concentrated major, and supplementing it with a major or minor in politicial science which is an interest of mine. I’ve written about these subjects a few times on my blog. Thanks for the article.

Get Happy Life November 24, 2010 at 7:23 am

I graduated a year ago and in my case – it paid off greatly. Great effort has been put achieving high grades and now I earn quite well from the start of my working career. My degree is Bsc. in Computer Science and Engineering.
.-= Get Happy Life´s last blog ..Financial Freedom Is About Time- Not Money =-.

Steve December 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm

I feel like the best route these days after having 2 kids in college in this economy is to get a job with a corporation out of high school. Work full time and get the job experience even if it is manufacturing a product and go to school in the evenings. Let the employer pay for your school so your are not thousands in debt when you get out. This way you are building job experience and keeping your debt down.

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