Is college or postsecondary study really necessary?

  • Over the past quarter century, wage gaps between workers with different education levels have increased, largely due to falling real earnings for those with less education.
  • Real weekly earnings for workers with less than a high–school diploma fell from $462 in 1979 to $337 in 1998. This downward trend continued for all workers who were not college graduates.
  • Twenty years ago, the average college graduate earned 38 percent more than the average high-school graduate. Today, it is 71% more.
  • Occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree will grow almost twice as fast as the overall average.
  • The three fastest growing occupations, require at least a bachelor’s degree and have higher average earnings.
  • All of the 20 highest paying occupations require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Educational Level


Years in Workplace

Average Annual Income (US Census Bureau, ‘00)

Average Monthly Income

Lifetime Income (annual income x years in workforce)

Estimated Cost of Degree (Average)

Net Lifetime Benefit (lifetime income – cost of degree)

High School Graduate








Associate Degree








Bachelor’s Degree







Master’s Degree
















Professional (Doctor, Lawyer)








From the Department of Labor Statistics, 2000.

Source: Building a College Culture by Leslie Hays (Powerpoint)

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