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A college degree pays off – more than ever before

Education pays chart
April 03, 2014

Earnings gap between college and high school degree largest since 1915

The earnings gap between college and high school graduates has been growing for decades, according to a report issued by the U.S. Treasury and Department of Education. “Evidence suggests that today’s earnings gap is the highest since 1915, the earliest year for which there are estimates of the college wage gap,” the report states.

In comparing median weekly earnings in 2011 (see chart), college graduates earned 64 percent more than high school graduates, or $1,053 compared to $638. The unemployment rate among college graduates was also much better, at 4.9 percent, while the rate for those with only a high school diploma was almost double at 9.4 percent.

The differences become even more dramatic at higher levels of education. Those with a master’s degree earned almost double ($1,262), and those with a professional degree more than two-and-a-half times ($1,665) what high school graduates earn ($638).

Stark differences also appear in the unemployment rates: 3.6 percent for those with a master’s degree and 2.4 percent for those with a professional degree, compared to 9.4 percent for a high school graduate.

In a survey of Arizona State University students who received a bachelor’s degree in 2012-2013 across all schools, including arts and science, journalism and education, 84.4 percent of those who reported they were seeking a job were working and/or had been offered at least one job within three to six months of getting their degree. The majority of those not seeking work were going to graduate school.

Average salaries were substantial and varied according to the graduate’s discipline, as well as grade point average (GPA). Overall survey salary rates of employed students who received a bachelor's degree in 2012-2013 were:

• 3.50-4.00 GPA – $42,926
• 3.00-3.49 GPA – $42,412
• 2.50-2.99 GPA – $40,894