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College Education ‘Worth More Today,’ Pew Report Finds

The average worker with a bachelor’s degree or higher earns about $17,500 a year more than a high school grad.

By University Alliance on September 11, 2014
College Degree Pays Off, Survey Finds

Young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education on virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

The disparities within the Millennial generation, which is defined as individuals born after 1980, are dramatic:

  • Graduates of four-year and other advanced degree programs earned a median annual salary of $45,500 in 2013, compared with $28,000 for high school graduates.
  • The unemployment rate among those who stopped attending school after high school is 12.2%, or more than three times the 3.8% jobless rate of those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
  • More than one in five (21.8%) high school graduates without a college degree live in poverty, while the rate among those with a degree is 5.8%.

Although members of the Millennial generation, regardless of their education level, have felt the effects of the Great Recession and subsequent slow economic recovery, “the picture is consistently bleaker for less-educated workers,” Pew reported.

“On a range of measures, they not only fare worse than the college-educated, but they are doing worse than earlier generations at a similar age,” according to the February 2014 report, The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.

Having a college degree has social as well as economic ramifications, the Pew survey found. The marriage rate among Millennials with a four-year degree or higher was 45% compared to 40% for high school graduates, who also were 50% more likely to be living in their parents’ home.

Pew surveyed about 2,000 adults ages 25 to 32 and supplemented the analysis with economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report describes the Millennials as “the best-educated generation in history,” with one-third of survey respondents having at least a bachelor’s degree. Only 13% of the so-called “Silent” generation, which includes individuals born between 1928 and 1945, had a college degree. Among baby boomers who were ages 25 to 32 in the early 1980s, 24% had a college degree.

At the other end of the education spectrum, the proportion of young adults with just a high school diploma has declined from 43% in 1965 to 26% in 2013, according to Pew. The report notes “the dramatic decline in the value of a high school education,” which dropped from $31,384 in 1965 to $28,000 in 2013.

Over the past 50 years, the earnings gap among young adults based on level of educational attainment has grown steadily. During the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, college grads earned about $7,500 more than their high school counterparts. By the second term of President Barack Obama, that differential had more than doubled to $17,500.

Nearly 90% of college-educated Millennials say their degree has paid off or will pay off, including among those who took out school loans, the Pew survey found.

Category: 2014 Headlines