Pew Research Center has just published a compelling report, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.” Based on a nationwide study of 2,000+ adults supplemented by recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Pew found that on almost every measure of economic and career attainment, Millenials (adults between the ages of 25 to 32) with a college degree outperform their counterparts with less education.
For example, young college graduates earn on average $17,500 per year more than individuals with only a high school diploma. Average earnings for Millennials with only a high school diploma are just 62% of those of Millennial college graduates. This gap has widened from previously studied generations, including the Silent Generation Early Baby Boomers, Late Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.
Furthermore, 22% of Millenials with a high school diploma are living in poverty versus only 7% of Early Baby Boomers. Millennials with a college degree are also more likely to see their job as a career or a stepping stone to a career than those without a college degree (86% with a degree versus. 57% without). More importantly, 72% of Millennials with a college degree believe that college has already paid off for them, and 90% of those who borrowed for college believe that the cost of college has been, or will later be, worth it.
While the average earnings of 25- to 32-year-old Millennial college graduates increased $7,000 in 2012 dollars from 1965 to 2013, the average high school graduate’s earnings fell $3,000 during the same period. This decline has offset the overall earnings gains of Millennial college graduates.
The study also examines the relevance of college degrees by program area. Those Millennial graduates with science or engineering degrees are most likely to be working in a field related to their area of study (60% versus 43% for all other liberal arts, social science, or business degrees).
While many critics of higher education disparage the cost of college—and there are many initiatives to lower college costs—the Pew Research study provides important supporting data for not only the importance of earning a college degree, but also the belief of college graduates in how valuable their degree is to their job and career. I recommend this report to higher education researchers, policymakers and parents who may wonder if the value of higher education is still worth it for the next generation.