Is a post-secondary education worth the investment of time and money? In the long run will a four year college degree help an individual achieve more career success? With a job market that is still relatively shaky and student loan debt reaching an all-time high (the graduating class of 2014 averaged $33,000 of debt) many are questioning whether the “juice is worth the squeeze” when it comes to pursuing a college education. Why not forgo the extra four years (or more) of academia and tens of thousands of dollars in potential debt by joining the workforce right out of high school?
Because numbers and statistics don’t lie.
Let’s start off with some facts regarding the advantages of a college degree:
- According to the US Census Bureau the median annual salary of an individual with a bachelor’s degree is $55,700. The median annual salary for those with a high school diploma is $32,500.
- The US Census bureau also reports that college graduates are more likely to receive health insurance from their employers (74.5%) than those with a high school diploma (53.3%)
- Those with a bachelor’s degree earn on average about $1.5 million more over a lifetime than those with just a high school education.
- According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the unemployment percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree in 2013 was 4% as opposed to 7.5% for those with just a high school diploma.
- According to CollegeAtlas.com individuals with a college degree are more likely to be offered a position by an employer and will have more opportunities to obtain higher level, skill based jobs.
The list of statistics compiled by reputable sources goes on and on in favor of earning a college degree in spite of the negative opinions that have recently been formed about the value of a post-secondary education. That being said there are variables that should be weighed.
One of the most prevailing considerations is an individual’s choice of study. The range of earning potential when comparing certain disciplines to others is staggering. For example, according to Forbes Magazine someone who has studied petroleum engineering and has found employment in that field can make $97,900 right out of college. On the other end of the spectrum someone who has gone into the fine arts field can expect to make around $30,000.
In fact, most lists of top job markets with the highest earning potential are usually dominated by engineering and medical based professions while the professions that have the least earning potential fall into the liberal arts category. This obviously does not factor in aspects like job satisfaction and quality of work/life balance.
Although it is apparent that gone are the days when someone could earn a degree in virtually any field and still find gainful employment just on the merit of having that degree. The type of degree a student earns probably matters more today than at any time in recent history.
The key for any graduating high school senior is to investigate the earning potential for your area of career interest and the strength of the job market in that field. If the lifetime earning potential with or without a college degree is negligible, spending four years in college may or may not be the best option. You might be better off spending those same four years increasing your lifetime earnings and opportunities for advancement.
If the job potential is weak in your preferred area of study, perhaps pursuing a degree in something else, while studying your desired area of interest on the side or as a minor, would be wise to improve your chances of securing a job in a tough economy.
While a college degree can often lead to greater earning power, not all lucrative professions require college, and there are other academic options available.
Trade schools, certification programs, and other alternatives can open doors to certain profitable careers without the need for a four year degree. For example, the average median salary for an auto mechanic in 2012 was $36,610 but the higher earners made around $60,070 according to U.S. News and World Report.
Though it should be noted that technical schools and certification programs generally also require tuition.
So what do you think? Would you ever recommend someone forego a college education if their career interests don’t require it or if their desired area of study isn’t likely to significantly improve their chances of employment?
Here are some links to more information on this subject:
- US News & World Report – Discover 11 Hot College Majors That Lead to Jobs
- Forbes – The College Degrees That Get The Most Job Offers
- Forbes – The 10 Worst College Majors
- Business Insider – The College Majors With The Biggest Lifetime Earnings