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Is Higher Education Worth the Cost? Fusion and PayScale Investigate


Student loan debt currently tops $1 trillion, and tuition and fees increase every year. In an era of persistent unemployment and declining real value of wages, a prospective student could be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth it to go to college at all. Recently, Fusion, a TV and digital network aimed at Millennials, and PayScale examined the question of whether college is still a good investment.

college graduation 

(Photo Credit: j.o.h.n. walker/Flickr)

Using PayScale data, Fusion developed an interactive tool called Take the Plunge that examines the net lifetime earnings for workers of both genders and with a variety of different levels of education, and areas of study.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Last night, on Alicia Menendez Tonight, PayScale lead economist Katie Bardaro and Fusion senior editor Felix Salmon walked Menendez through the interactive to see how much various “characters” might earn over the course of their lifetime.

Men Still Earn More Than Women

Fusion’s deeper dive into the graphic shows that the last time men and women earn the same amount is when they first graduate from college. After that, their incomes diverge sharply and continue to do so over the course of their lives. 

Furthermore, Salmon points out in his analysis of the data, that women’s pay numbers don’t take into account periods of time spent outside the workforce.

Major Matters

“Not all majors, or schools for that matter, are created equal,” says Bardaro. “There is a strong difference in future potential earnings depending on what you major in and to a lesser extent, where you go to school.”

This partially explains why men make more than women: men are more likely to choose professions that pay more, such as those in STEM fields.

Regardless, College Graduates Earn More

“Even if incomes for college graduates are mostly flat, incomes and unemployment rates for people without a degree have been getting steadily worse,” says Salmon. “So the value added by a college degree has still been going up, and is significantly greater than the amount of debt most students take on.”

“On average, a college degree is still worth the cost when you compare post-graduate earnings to those of a high school graduate,” says Bardaro. “It takes time to recoup the cost of the degree, but you more than make it back over your lifetime of earnings.”

Bardaro notes that the unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree is only 4 percent, while the unemployment rate for workers with a high school diploma is 7.5 percent.

Bottom line? College is expensive, but not going might cost you more in the long run.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think college is still worth it? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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