With four years of college costing up to $100,000 today, many people are asking the question: Is it worth the investment?
The payoff for college graduates, in purely monetary terms, amounts to more than $200 a week in salary. According to data from a survey of working Americans released by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the earnings of employed college graduates average $640 a week, compared with $404 a week for those with only a high school degree.
For white men, a bachelor's degree pays off most--$261 a week more than white men who don't go beyond high school. Black men with college degrees earn $236 a week more than black male high school graduates with no college diploma. White women who are college graduates earn $211 a week more than their high school graduate counterparts; black female college graduates earn $189 a week more than black women who don't go beyond high school. But even if college grads earn roughly $10,000 a year more than high school graduates, it could still take years to recoup their investment.
"Not everyone needs to be college-bound," said Scott Passeser, president of Daniel Scott Associates, a Garden City, N. Y.-based outplacement and career management company. "In the future, I think you'll see more attention paid to vocational training."
Most jobs, in fact, don't require a college education. According to other Labor Department data, less than one-third of all jobs in the United States require a four-year college degree.
About a third require no more than an eighth-grade education (service jobs such as cleaners, food preparers, drivers) and another third require a high school education plus job training (jobs such as mechanics, secretaries and firefighters).
For this reason, economists project that 30% of college graduates will be underemployed.
"One of the things it's important to remember is that wages for college graduates went up, in part, because wages for those who are at the lowest end of the earning spectrum decreased," said Ruy Teixeira, an economist who co-authored "The Myth of the Coming Labor Shortage: Job Skills and Incomes of America's Workforce 2000" for the Economic Policy Institute.
At the same time, educators and economists say there are many special circumstances to be considered when evaluating the return on investing in a college education. The strength of a region's economy and the prestige of particular colleges or departments can be factors in whether a student is able to find employment after graduation. A student's career choice can also affect his or her success.