Study: College Degree Leads to More Earning Power

A recent Georgetown University study titled "The College Payoff" reaffirmed what Americans have known for years — those who earn college degrees go on to earn more money over their lifetimes than those who do not, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed. Unfortunately, however, the study also found that the lifetime earnings boost of a college degree is not nearly as high for women or certain minorities with college degrees, indicating that these groups still face disadvantages, the article pointed out.

The study found that on average, women must earn a doctoral degree to earn the same amount as a man with a bachelor’s degree, the article noted. In addition, a man who drops out of college will probably earn nearly as much as a woman who finished school and earned a bachelor’s degree, the study showed. Blacks and Latinos faced a similar disadvantage; on average, whites who held bachelor’s degrees still fared better in their earnings than blacks and Latinos with master’s degrees, the study revealed.

Other studies have sought to explain why women in particular continue to earn less than men at every level of degree attainment. According to the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, one reason for this is that women tend to shy away from negotiating higher salaries for themselves at the start of their careers, the Huffington Post reported. The Post article also noted a Georgetown University study released in May revealing that women tend to self-select college majors that don’t lead to high-paying careers.

Even though gender and race are "wild cards" in studies determining the lifetime earning power of those with various level of degree attainment, the most recent Georgetown University study showed that college degree is still "almost always worth it" for everyone, the Inside Higher Ed article explained. A major finding of the study is that those with bachelor’s degrees go on to earn about 84% more over their lifetimes than those who don’t, the article shows. It’s important to note, however, that the major you choose plays a huge role in lifetime earnings. For instance, it’s well-known that choosing a major in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) area tends to lead to higher-paying work. Also, the careers people choose make a difference; those who hold a Ph.D. who go on to teach at the postsecondary level earn less over their lifetimes on average than Ph.D.-holders who go on to become physical scientists, lawyers and judges, or pharmacists, for example.

Finally, while the study is good news for those who have decided to take the college path, it does have its critics. Some say that those with good cognitive and metacognitive abilities are more likely to go to college, and it is those abilities, rather than a college credential, that could actually be leading to the higher earnings, the article explains.

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