Is a College Degree Worth the Price? Census Bureau Has the Answer

College studentThe combination of the high and ever-rising price tag for a college education and the less-than-promising job prospects for new grads are fueling a hot debate about the value of a bachelor's degree: Is it actually worth the money?

Well, a new study from the Census Bureau, Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates, answers that question with a resounding yes. According to the study, education levels had more effect on earnings over a 40-year span in the workforce than any other demographic factor such as race or gender. The estimated impact on annual earnings between a person with a professional degree versus one without a high school diploma was about $72,000 a year. By comparison, the gap between men and women was just $13,000 -- less than a fifth as much -- reports the Census Bureau.

Certain folks do benefit more from higher education than others. For example, according to the study, non-Hispanic white males, Asian males and Asian females record bigger salary gains than others from higher levels of education over the course of a career. White men with professional degrees overall career earnings are more than double what Hispanic females with the same piece of paper make -- averaging about $2.4 million more.

The Census Bureau isn't saying that race, gender, citizenship, English-speaking ability or geographical location don't matter -- they do. But none of them packs the salary punch that education does.

"This analysis shows that there is a clear and well-defined relationship between education and earnings," said Tiffany Julian, an analyst in the Census Bureau's Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, in a prepared statement. "The overall economic value of educational attainment in this report supports the belief that higher levels of education are well-established paths to better jobs and higher earnings."

The study had a few other goodies to chew on, which the Bureau highlighted in its press release:
Overall, white males had higher earnings than any other group at every education level, with the exception of those with a master's degree, which was topped by Asian males, and those with a professional degree, where Asian males were not significantly different from white males. ...

In general, women in the most economically advantaged race groups usually earn less than men in the most disadvantaged race groups. For example, a white female with master's degree is expected to earn $2.4 million over a 40-year work-life. In comparison, a Hispanic male with a master's degree is expected to earn $2.8 million. ...

For Asian, black and Hispanic groups whose highest education completed is high school, the difference between each group's work-life earnings was not large compared with the differences between these groups when they had higher levels of education. ...

Language spoken at home had an effect on earnings: those who spoke a language at home other than English saw a decrease in annual earnings after considering all other factors. Even those who speak English "very well" saw a decrease of $989 in annual earnings compared with English-only speakers.

When your mother told you, "Don't be a fool, go to school," as usual, she knew what she was talking about.

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January 17 2012 at 10:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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January 17 2012 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whether you decide to go for advanced education or not, having a little extra income always help (especially if you do end up having to pay for college, which is starting to get way over-priced for the oppurtunities they offer). Visit to learn more about earning money online. No scams, no gimmicks, just work and earn. You will not get rich over night but it could mean the difference of a few extra dollars at the end of the month.

September 13 2011 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Money isn't everything. Too many equate a college education with getting a job, making money. College gives you education and learning things like compromise, diversity, patience, etc. .....both will help you in the workplace. The education college gives you is priceless and it is a wonderful opportunity. College education makes you think, question, tolerate, etc. Don't magnify the cost of college....a student who works hard in high school and obtains good grades and/or who has participates in extracurriculars can get a college degree at a very reasonable price if they check around for lower costs. Parents need to be involved in the college search to help them find better deals financially....sometimes the parent just has them get loans and doesn't push them to get scholarships and grants. I am employed at a high school where we have many local scholarships....we can't get the students to apply for them (they don't want to write the required essay!) and the parents don't push them!
I hold several Master's degrees as do both my children. And, we are all gainfully employed. When my children expressed interest in college, I told them I would help with the cost as long as they obtained the best grades they could in high school and applied for every scholarship/grant they could. We did not qualify for state aid. Both my children went to very expensive private schools for thousands of dollars less than state school price. Both had free room costs due to being resident advisors in their dorms. All of us did not go to grad school until we chose employers that would pay for our education. College costs can be reasonable if you hunt out the schools that are well endowed and you & your children work together to make things affordable.

September 09 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

...wonder if my 64 years of hard knocks is worth the degree of a 21 year old?

September 09 2011 at 6:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Keep English our country's langue and eveyrone coming here needs to learn it or never hold a decent job other than restaurant, motel maids, hired help etc. Good English will promote us almsot as good as a good eduction.

September 09 2011 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lois's comment
warren currier

So, Lois, what's your story?

September 15 2011 at 11:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One issue with those with a college degree is that. When many of them graduate thier knowledge level is equilavent to a high school graduate 30-40 years ago. That's from an era when you were required to meet certain standards to move to the next grade. Today the educational system is such that its easier to move a failing student to the next level so you don't have to deal with them the following year. Also if you fail a student it reflects poorly on the school and the teacher.
Consider the fact that maybe we should allow some students to just enter college for the sports and not require that they attend any classes. When they complete thier four years of sports give them a certificate stating that they have completed and competed in the schools sports program. Have those that go into the sports programs pay thier own way to events and purchasing of equipment. That could be thier tuition.
Many college degrees do not make people intelligent. It just gives them more time to mature. The school of hard knocksputs out better grads.

September 09 2011 at 6:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to argosy896u's comment

Obviously you failed English in high school. What else could explain your repeated misspelling of "their" four times?

September 09 2011 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You clearly havent been to college recently, We take calculus in high school now, which used to only be offered in colleges. School is much more difficult now then it was back in the day. And athletes that arent the best do pay tuition and many of them get good degrees, or atleast they do at my college plus who would hire someone with a "sports certificate"?

September 09 2011 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to c.juds's comment

Calculus and AP Physics were offerred at my HS along with several AP and Honors classes. However, this was before the era of computers and instant world wide communications, so it may balance out. I don't think I'd want to go through HS OR College again!

September 09 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I took Calculus in HS in '69/'70 due to taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Not sure where you got your info, but do know most current HS grads, and a bunch of college grads are quite History challenged. Also, that was not the first year that seniors at my HS, a public one, took Calculus. Whomever told you that needs to be thumped upside the head, really gave you bad info!

September 14 2011 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

These posts correctly point out all the many flaws in this superficial article. The key point is that an education in any technical field will probably pay off--but even that can be obtained, while working, at the many technical, computer-aided, and part-time schooling alternatives. The most wasteful college education of all is for those taking soft-science majors at prestige colleges-- If the parents put the $200-300K costs of same in a trust, the kid would have a million dollars when he turned forty, and could draw out 3-4K a month while watching the trust grow bigger!

September 09 2011 at 6:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to whitneygre's comment

I think majors like Philosophy and English Lit. probably wouldn't pay off. I firmly believe kids who want a 4-year degree should take their pre-requisites at a community college, and then transfer. It saved me a lot of money, and I have an MS, and an MD/PhD.

September 09 2011 at 8:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In this economy, college degrees only benefit the colleges with all the money you're throwing away. Half of the courses are b/s anyway just to fluff up the curriculum.

September 09 2011 at 6:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to robthebl0gger4's comment
joynerz that's why I never learned anything from that basket-weaving class.

September 09 2011 at 7:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Choosing to go to college and earn a degree shouldn't be about the money. An education has no price. It wildly alters perspective and ideas and introduces numerous topics that never would have been discovered. And it's all for the better (except for the capitalist fools chasing paper).

As a freshman, the most important thing I've learned in the past three weeks is to question everything. Stop absorbing and accepting all information as fact because it is not.

September 09 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kristiemagafas's comment

I guess you weren't living off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while going to college. Some people actually need money to survive.

September 09 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply