Posted on Friday, March 18, 2011

Does college really pay off? Yes. Even people who work in jobs that do not require a college degree usually make more money than their coworkers without college degrees. As the American workforce becomes more specialized and lower-skill jobs are being farmed out to workers in other countries, a college degree is more important than ever before to your success.

More Education Means More Money
Although jobs with good pay are available to workers with lower levels of education, the general rule is that more education means a better job. Higher education opens the door to jobs that are unavailable to people who don’t have a college degree. And, as mentioned before, the more education you have, the more money you tend to make.

For example, a person interested in electronics who does not have a high school diploma or GED certificate may be able to become an electrician with a median salary of under $32,000. On the other hand, someone with a higher level of education could become an electrical and electronics engineer. With a two-year degree, that engineer could earn $57,000 a year; which would increase to $66,000 for a four-year degree, $76,000 for a master’s degree and $112,000 for a doctoral degree.

Similarly, computer support specialists without high school diplomas or GED certificates earn just over $31,000 per year. However, workers with high school diplomas, GED certificates or a two-year degree earn salaries in the low- to mid-$50,000 range. Computer support specialists with four-year degrees earn $74,000, while those with master’s degrees earn $92,000.

Non-technical workers also benefit from more education. Construction managers without high school diplomas earn $33,600. Those with high school diplomas or GED certificates earn $47,000; those with four-year degrees earn $62,000. Industrial production managers without high school diplomas earn $36,400 per year; while those with high school diplomas or GED certificates earn almost $47,500 per year. Industrial production managers with four-year degrees earn $72,000 per year; while those with advanced degrees can earn more than $78,000 per year.

Some jobs are limited almost exclusively to those with an education beyond high school. Computer software engineers with two-year degrees earn almost $50,000 per year, while those with four-year degrees earn $64,000 per year and those with master’s degrees earn almost $75,000 per year. Financial managers generally have a minimum of a four-year degree. Financial managers with four-year degrees earn $60,000 per year while those with master’s degrees earn an average of $78,000 per year.

The variances can be easily viewed in this chart:

Job Category Without High School or GED With High School or GED With 2-year degree With 4-year degree With master’s degree
Electronics $32,000 $57,000 $66,000 $76,000
Computer $31,000 $52,000 $55,000 $74,000 $92,000
Construction Manager $33,600 $47,000 $62,000
Production Manager $36,400 $47,500 $72,000 $78,000
Software Engineer $50,000 $64,000 $75,000
Financial Manager $60,000 $78,000

Other occupations, such as pharmacists and many types of engineers, are only open to those with college degrees and beyond. And, of course, occupations such as physician and lawyer are generally only open to those with the very highest levels of education and are, as a result, among the highest-paying jobs.

A lot of jobs, including those you might not expect, such as secretarial positions, are being filled by people who have college degrees. Look at these trends:

Secretarial Positions
In 1962, an administrative assistant, then called a secretary, had an average of 12.4 years of education. By 2003, however, secretaries had an average of 13.2 years of education. In addition, the proportion of administrative assistants with at least bachelor’s degrees increased from 9.3 percent in 1992 to 14.9 percent in 2003. This increase is probably due to advancements in computer technology, which have increased the job requirements for secretarial and administrative assistant positions.

Civil Engineers
In 1964, a civil engineer had an average of 14.8 years of education. This had increased to 16.2 years by 2003. Over the same period of time, the proportion of civil engineers with at least bachelor’s degrees increased by 3.3 percent.

Dentists had an average of 17.8 years of education in 1968 and 19.0 years in 2003. However, the proportion of dentists with advanced degrees has not substantially increased since 1992. As with elementary school teachers, certification requirements may be driving these statistics.

As you can see from these statistics, it has become extremely important for you to have a college degree. The job you want may not require a degree but having one is almost guaranteed to make your job search easier and raise your pay.

All data presented represents median income for workers with specific education levels in the occupations listed. Data is from 2003. Portions reprinted from “Does College Really Pay Off?” Copyright © 2003, Employment Policy Foundation. This material may be adapted only for non-commercial use.

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