The Dollar Value Of A College Degree

There are three schools of thought on why going to college is good:

  1. Cash. Having a college degree will help you get higher paying jobs.
  2. Enlightenment. It expands your mind: the higher education will teach you how to think properly, and that may or may not pay off financially, but it’ll make you a better person and vote the right way (which according to universities, is the left way).
  3. Fun. Where else will other people pay your way to get more cash and/or enlightenment, with the added benefit of racking up fun memories with irresponsible people (or is it the other way?), about which you then get to reminisce for the rest of your life?

Those last two reasons are no good to researchers because their effectiveness is largely immeasurable, so the ones at Georgetown decided to look at the trade-school aspect of college and see what the return on investment is for a college degree.  Then they wrote a big report on the subject, or so The Chronicle of Higher Education will have us believe.

It turns out — and this will be shocking to all of you who just arrived from Papua New Guinea — different degrees command different salaries! Generally speaking, the more practical a degree is, the higher the salary will be and the more abstract, the lower. So the arithmetic stuff (engineering, business, health, science) gets paid more than the reading/writing stuff (arts, policy, social work). Huge surprise, right? The researchers admit that it’s not, but the value of this data is the large number of majors they cataloged, which shows for example, the difference in earnings between a Geography major and a Criminology major. So you’re pretty interested in two sort of different things, you can now easily find out which will have the bigger financial payoff.

One caveat of the study is that it only compared bachelor degrees — doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc are left out of this study and most of them would probably make more than the math-y bachelors.

Bottom line: even a social work bachelor degree is worth it, because on average even the people with the lowest-paying bachelor degrees earn about 150k$ more over the length of their career than high-school-only graduates. For other majors it’s a few hundred grand more, topping out with engineering at about a million dollars more.

From Georgetown University, via The Chronicle Of Higher Education and Slashdot


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