Study: College degree can earn you an extra $1 million

lifetime earnings

by Jeff Goldman | August 5, 2011

According to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the value of a college degree is increasing--people with a bachelor's degree now make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma, up from 75 percent in 1999.

Bachelor's degree holders, the study found, can now expect median lifetime earnings approaching $2.3 million, while those with only a high school diploma average approximately $1.3 million, which translates to just over $15 per hour.

"The report also finds … that the wage gap between men and women remains even among those with similar levels of educational attainment in the same occupations," writes The New York Times' Motoko Rich. "On average, women who work full time earn 25 percent less than men."

Expected lifetime earnings by educational attainment are as follows:

  • High school dropout: $973,000
  • High school graduate: $1.3 million
  • Some college but no degree: $1.5 million
  • Associate's degree holder: $1.7 million
  • Bachelor's degree holder: $2.3 million
  • Master's degree holder: $2.7 million
  • Doctoral degree holder: $3.3 million
  • Professional degree holder: $3.6 million

"On average, people with more education and higher attainment make more than people with less education," Center director and report co-author Anthony P. Carnevale said in a statement. "But major and occupation matter just as much as degree level. For example, 28 percent of people with an Associate's degree make at least as much as the average Bachelor's degree holder--mostly due to occupational choice."

That's true at several levels of educational attainment, according to the study:

  • 31 percent of high school dropouts earn more than the median earnings of workers with high school diplomas
  • 37 percent of those with a high school diploma make more than the median earnings of workers with some college/no degree
  • 42 percent of people with some college/no degree earn more than the median earnings of workers with an Associate's degree
  • 40 percent of people with a Bachelor's degree earn more than the median of workers with a Master's degree
  • 36 percent of people with a Master's degree make more than the median of workers with a Doctoral degree
  • 37 percent of people with a Doctoral degree make more than the median of workers with a Professional degree

A separate study by the Center at Georgetown estimated that by 2018, 63 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training--but today, only about 41 percent of adults have a college degree in America.

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About the Author

Jeff Goldman is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles.