The Economics of a Bachelor’s Degree

  • Find a bachelor's degree

    Bachelors Degree Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Is get­ting a bach­e­lor’s degree still worth it? When weigh­ing the pros and cons of high­er edu­ca­tion, there are a lot of things to con­sid­er. Let’s look at what the num­bers say about get­ting a bach­e­lor’s degree.

Economics of a Bachelor's Degree
Share this graph­ic on your site!

Bachelor’s Degrees are Worth $1 Million Over Life of Career

Col­lege grad­u­ates earn an aver­age of almost $20,000 more per year than work­ers with only a high school diplo­ma. That adds up to $1,000,000 more over the life of a career. This means that col­lege grad­u­ates who man­age mon­ey well can retire very com­fort­ably. By 2020, it’s esti­mat­ed that 2/3 of jobs will require a col­lege degree. In these respects, obtain­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree is essential.

Getting a Bachelor’s Degree is Expensive

How­ev­er, going to col­lege has nev­er been more expen­sive. Over the past 30 years, tuition costs at 4‑year uni­ver­si­ties have dou­bled. To make things even worse, only 30% of bach­e­lor’s degrees were cov­ered by Pell Grants in 2015. This is the low­est amount in U.S. his­to­ry and half of what was cov­ered in 1980.

Edu­ca­tion is most expen­sive when stu­dents don’t grad­u­ate. When there is no return on the col­lege invest­ment, for­mer stu­dents are three times more like­ly to default on stu­dent loans. At risk are the 40% of all first time col­lege stu­dents who don’t grad­u­ate with­in six years. A quar­ter of all col­lege dropouts default on their stu­dent loans with­in three years.

College Graduates Have a Higher Quality of Life

The ben­e­fits of earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree go far beyond the pay­check. In addi­tion to being on the bet­ter side of the widen­ing wage gap between col­lege and high school grad­u­ates, those with a bach­e­lor’s degree also enjoy increased job secu­ri­ty, bet­ter mar­riages and high­er job sat­is­fac­tion.

Student Debt is an Increasing Burden

Find­ing the mon­ey to pay for col­lege has been get­ting more dif­fi­cult every year. Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and stu­dents are tak­ing on more debt than ever before to pay for the ris­ing costs of col­lege. The cost of col­lege has risen faster than almost every oth­er indus­try while wages remain stag­nant. The aver­age debt for a bach­e­lor’s degree increased 2x more than the rate of infla­tion from 2004 to 2014. As a result, Amer­i­cans owe $1.3 tril­lion in stu­dent debt. This debt is ris­ing by $2,726.27 every second!

It’s easy to see that the vast major­i­ty of stu­dents in the US will grad­u­ate from col­lege with an enor­mous amount of debt. The aver­age stu­dent debt is cur­rent­ly $37,173. It typ­i­cal­ly takes 21 years for stu­dent bor­row­ers to repay this debt! Almost half of grad­u­ates say if they could go back in time they would recon­sid­er tak­ing on debt for col­lege. Two-thirds of Amer­i­cans agree that col­lege is too expen­sive and sim­ply not affordable.

Is the Cost of College Worth it To You?

After weigh­ing all the pros and cons, this is a ques­tion only you and your fam­i­ly can answer. The ben­e­fits of earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s degree are obvi­ous, but come at a great cost. The best col­lege plan includes com­ing up with ways to pay for school while tak­ing on the least amount of stu­dent debt possible.