How much is a college degree worth?

It’s common knowledge that having a college degree is worth more on average than just a high school diploma. But just how much more?

According to, the answer is $1 million. From the article:

The Census Bureau has taken a new stab at answering the age-old question: Just how much is a college degree worth?

The answer: $1 million.

That is a rough average, of course, but data collected in an extensive Bureau study suggests that a college degree is worth about $1 million in additional lifetime earnings compared with a comparable worker with only a high school diploma.

Based on 2008 data, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $57,000, compared with $34,000 for workers with only a high school diploma.

So with a college degree my earnings increase 68 percent, effectively giving me a $23,00o raise. And this isn’t just a one-time raise, but a yearly one. After a 40-year career and increased earning potential, this comes out to over $1 million in additional income over your working lifetime.

There are also non-monetary benefits of going to college. Among them:

  • You acquire social skills as you interact with those around you
  • You learn to be independent and to take care of yourself
  • The opportunity to take on leadership roles in clubs, dorms, and in the classroom
  • You learn the importance of networking with professors, faculty and other students
  • The opportunity to take classes on subjects that interest you
  • The opportunity to study abroad
  • You make friendships that can last a lifetime

But is college for everyone? Some argue that you don’t need a college degree to make a good living for yourself. For example, if you have an idea for a business you may not want to risk putting it off for four years. Another barrier for some is that nobody in their family has gone to college before. First-generation college students face some unique challenges such as a potential lack of family support. Still others opt for military service. Whatever the reason, there are some cases where it may not make sense to go to college right after high school.

You also have to consider the opportunity costs of college. These include the wages you would have earned, had you started working right out of high school; travel; volunteer work; or anything else you might have otherwise done with your time and resources.

College may not be right for everyone, but it is my belief that everyone should be given the opportunity to attend college. Up-front cost at a public school should never be an issue because you’ll more than make it back during your working years. In addition, going to college provides intangible benefits like character building that add to the value of a college education.

2 thoughts on “How much is a college degree worth?

  1. Great post on the net benefits to a college-educated individual. There are also widely recognized societal benefits (or positive spillovers) of higher education: increased standard of living and quality of life, a more informed citizenry, and less crime among others.

  2. I’m sure this study uses data from the past 20-30 years. Use the next 20-30 years, adjust for inflation and I think the numbers will be a lot lower. A college degree is more like a Hs degree if you go for certain majors

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