Over their lifetimes, holders of associate degrees earn almost 25% more than their peers who only completed high school. Bachelor’s degree holders earn around 66% more than those same high school-educated peers, according to Education Pays, the College Board’s compilation of data that emphasizes the personal benefits of pursuing higher education.
College graduates have a much lower probability of being unemployed, even in a tough economy. In addition to financial considerations, those with postsecondary degrees are less likely to smoke, to struggle with obesity, or to have children who struggle with obesity.
The last time the College Board published a similar report, in 2007, it came under scrutiny for the assumptions its data were built upon. Education Pays at the time claimed that average college graduates each earned, over their lifetimes, $1 million more than peers who had only completed high school. Assumptions about the average costs associated with college attendance, the increasing number of graduates taking more than four years to complete a bachelor’s degree, and the inclusion of earnings data from those with professional and doctoral degrees, all contributed to inflating that “earnings premium,” critics say.
This year’s report avoids lofty dollar-figure pronouncements, but stands by the assertion that education—in fact, each successive year of education—results in financial and lifestyle benefits. The data also suggest that the earnings gap between the high school- and college-educated continues to widen.
As a matter of context, New England states have seen an increase over the past decade in the percentage of students completing high school and the percentage completing college. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that, using a three-year average, 88% of New Englanders completed high school in 2007, up from 84% in the year 2000. Bachelor’s degree completion also rose in New England during that period by about three percentage points, from 28% to 31%.