Count both benefits and costs if you're considering a college degree for you or your kids, suggests The Wall Street Journal. Don't forget the high sticker price for tuition, books and fees. Factor in the money not earned for time out of the workforce. That said, those with college degrees usually get better fringe benefits and enjoy better health. They also tend to earn higher salaries on average than those without college degrees.
Bachelor's and Lower
Grads with a bachelor's degree had median wages of $1,053 per week as of 2011, compared to $638 for those with a high-school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a weekly difference of $415, or $21,580 for a full year. The median earnings of high-school grads were $638 per week, and those of associate's-degree holders were $768. The BLS' data only includes workers aged 25 or older working full-time.
Earning a graduate or professional degree usually increases your income even more. For example, the median 2011 pay with a master's degree came to $1,263 per week, according to the government survey. A doctoral degree brought in a median weekly salary of $1,551, and a professional degree netted a median sum of $1,665 per week.
The Census Bureau has calculated the hypothetical or synthetic full-time earnings over a lifetime for grads at various educational levels. The report is based on the 1998, 1999 and 2000 population surveys and is the most current available at the time of writing. A high-school grad has expected lifetime earnings of $1.2 million in 1999 dollars. A person with an associate's degree has estimated lifetime earnings of $1.6 million; with a bachelor's degree, $2.1 million. A master's degree bumps up expectations to $2.5 million, and a doctoral degree is worth $3.4 million. A professional degree can bring in a cool $4.4 million over a lifetime.
The nearly $1 million difference in lifetime earnings between college and high-school grads may be too optimistic, according to The Wall Street Journal. Both government and independent studies assume grads will do as well in the future as in past years. They ignore the cost of tuition, the interest on student loans and the dollar's loss of purchasing power. According to the Wall Street Journal, the true lifetime difference between high-school and four-year grads is likely only $300,000 to $600,000. Most studies also fail to factor in the differences for various majors. Some associate's degree concentrations, for instance, provide more earning potential than some bachelor's degree majors. Proving this, 28 percent of associate's-degree grads earn more than those with a four-year degree.