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5 Reasons Why a College Degree Is Still Worth the Money

Samantha Rose
Samantha Rose is a personal finance writer covering financial literacy for OppU. Her work focuses on providing hands-on resources for high school and college-age students in addition to their parents and educators.
Read time: 5 min
Updated on February 23, 2022
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College is expensive. But skipping a degree can cost you.

The cost of attending college keeps rising. One result? A student loan debt burden that sits at a record $1.6 trillion. With such a hefty price tag, a college degree is a huge financial commitment, so it’s wise to ask a few questions before making a decision. And here’s one that many students (and their parents) may have: 

Is a college degree still worth the money?

The answer, generally, is a resounding “yes.” But students should be mindful of the debt they accumulate. For instance, attending an expensive college might not be the best choice if a lower-cost alternative is available. And every student’s situation is unique, so what works for one might not be the best course of action for another. 

Done right, however, any form of higher education can offer benefits that outweigh the cost. Here are five reasons why a college degree is still worth the money — according to the stats.

No. 1: Higher earnings

While expensive, a college degree can help you access job earnings that otherwise would be out of reach. For instance, the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree earned about $78,000. An average worker with only a high school diploma, on the other hand, earned $45,000. This is a $30,000 difference, with an average college graduate earning nearly 75% more. 

The wage gap is further widened by the fact that college graduates are less likely to be unemployed. In fact, the lower your degree attainment, the more likely you are to be out of work. These differences account for thousands of dollars in long-term earning potential. In fact, the difference between the lifetime wages of high school graduated and college graduates is $1 million, according to a Georgetown University study.

No. 2: Better financial health 

Completing a college degree also corresponds to substantially higher levels of financial health, according to a 2020 national study. The study, conducted by Navient, a student loan servicer and collector, and Ipsos, a market research company, provides an in-depth look at the impact of educational attainment on financial health. 

According to the research, degree holders were more likely to report positive financial health. 

  • 54% of degree holders said they were financially stable compared to 35% of those without a degree.
  • 56% of degree holders said they had enough money saved to cover emergency expenses compared to 37% of those without a degree. 
  • 75% of degree holders said they can save money each month compared to 56% of those without a degree.

No. 3: Positive financial outlook

The Navient study also found that those who hold a college degree have a more positive financial outlook. 

  • 54% of degree holders reported feeling financially stable compared to 35% of those without a degree.  
  • 55% of degree holders said they believed they would be better off than their parents compared to 44% of those without a degree.  
  • Only 37% of degree holders worried about paying monthly bills versus 50% of those without a degree.

So it’s not surprising that degree holders view their education as a worthwhile investment, even if they took out student loans. Degree holders literally have more positive feelings about their current financial situation.

No. 4: Career attainment

College is a great option to pursue or enhance a career. When you pursue a degree, you learn factual and practical knowledge to apply to the workforce. Don’t be discouraged. It’s entirely possible to finance a college degree on any budget and at any age. So why not pursue a degree for career advancement?

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, college grads had greater levels of career satisfaction. Eighty-six percent of degree holders said they had a career or career-track job. Only 57% of high school diploma holders said the same — this is the difference between viewing yourself as having a career path versus having a job that pays the bills. 

Overall, the survey found that “[o]n virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment,” millennial college graduates outperformed their peers who had less education. 

The disparity in economic outcomes between degree holders and non-degree holders has never been wider, compared across generations. For instance, Baby Boomers with a high school diploma earned about 77% of what a Baby Boomer with a college degree earned. Today, millennials with a high school diploma earn 62% of what a millennial college graduate earns. 

Thus, a professional degree will help you advance in the workforce — whether you’re seeking career fulfillment or higher pay.

No. 5: Education

One of the most important returns of college is the intellectual benefit. Students don’t go to college simply to pursue a career. Rather, they pursue an education. And a bachelor’s degree will help them achieve it.

To help students make smart decisions, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce created a list of five rules for students to keep in mind:

  • More education is better.
  • Education level matters, but majors matter even more.
  • There is variation in earnings within majors.
  • Less education, such as certificates, can be worth more in certain situations.
  • Humanities and liberal arts majors never close the gap with the highest-earning majors.

Ultimately, college provides students an opportunity to learn about new subjects, expand their knowledge, challenge their previously held beliefs, and discover their passions. It’s an exploratory time unlike any other. They’re free to invest their time and energy into taking stock of their interests and talents. And this allows them to craft a life that is true to their purpose. 

There’s a reason why colleges churn out well-rounded members of society. Any investment in education is a worthwhile endeavor.

Bottom line

Before deciding that a college degree is too expensive, look at the data. A degree is invaluable in today’s market, and the personal and professional benefits will pay dividends.

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