According to Benjamin Franklin, “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” Of course, when Franklin made that statement over 200 years ago, he probably could not have even imagined how expensive higher education in the U.S. would become. Indeed, these days, many parents and students are wondering if a college degree is still worth the money it costs to obtain it.
The answer, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, is an unequivocal “yes”. Using 2013 Census data as well as phone interviews with over 2,000 people, Pew found that among adults ages 25-32 — the Millenial generation — the income gap between college and high school graduates is the largest it’s ever been. In 2012, individuals with a Bachelor’s degree made an average of $17,500 more per year than individuals with a high school diploma. In contrast, in 1965, this gap was less than $7,500 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
While the average income for Bachelor’s degree holders in this age group has increased only slightly in the last several decades ($45,500 in 2012 vs. $38,833 in 1965), the average income for those with a high school diploma has decreased ($28,000 in 2012 vs. $31,384 in 1965). (The 1965 amounts were reported in 2012 dollars.) In other words, in 1965, individuals with a high school diploma earned 81% of the income earned by individuals with a four-year degree, whereas in 2012, high school graduates earned only 61.5% of that earned by college graduates.
The Pew study also found that the majority of young adults feel their college degree was a worthwhile investment: nine out of ten of those surveyed said their degree had paid off or will pay off in the future. Even though two-thirds of respondents had taken out student loans to pay for college, 86% of them said their degree has paid or will pay off.
Finally, young adults with a college degree are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and less likely to live in poverty. 22% of Millenials with a high school diploma live in poverty, compared to 7% of this age group in 1979.
So, despite the rising cost of college, it is, in fact, still worth it. Paul Taylor, executive vice president of Pew Research Center and a co-author of its report offered a more modernized version of Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one.”