College degrees boost earnings 84 percent

College degrees, despite their high cost, allow workers to earn $2.3 million over a lifetime. Those without college degrees earn $1.3 million.

Jason R. Henske/AP/File
Dartmouth College graduates Greg Agron and John Agbaje laugh as Conan O'Brien delivers the commencement address during the college's commencement exercises in Hanover, N.H., June 12, 2011. On average, college degrees allow workers to earn 84 percent more than high school graduates, a new study finds.

The cost of education these days would make anyone squirm, but researchers say it's worth it.

People with a bachelor's degree make 84 percent more over a lifetime than high school graduates. In 1999, the premium was 75 percent, according to a study released Friday.

Granted, the report comes from a university — specifically, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

But the data is striking, especially amid the backdrop of increasing concerns about soaring school expenses.

—On average, a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million over a lifetime, compared to $2.3 million for a college graduate and $1.3 million for those with a high school diploma.

—People with less education in high-paying occupations can out-earn their counterparts with advanceddegrees. But within the same industry, workers with more schooling usually land better paychecks.

—The gender and racial gap persists. To earn as much as their male colleagues, women tend to need much higher degrees, even while working the same hours. Black and Latino master's degree-holders don't out-earn white college graduates. But Asians with graduate degrees out-earn all other races and ethnicities at the same educational level.

—The highest-paying occupations for each degree tier vary. High school graduates can make $2.2 million over their lifetimes as general and operations managers. College graduates who become chief executives or legislators can haul in $4.5 million. Physicians and surgeons rake in nearly $6 million.

The Georgetown researchers have also estimated that 63 percent of American jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education or training by 2018. Currently, the U.S. is 10th globally in college degree attainment, with 41 percent of adults earning a bachelor's degree.

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