Returns on College & College Degrees




Many students will return to college campuses in the next four weeks. Some students will be saddled with big loans. Some students will still be trying to figure out what they want to study and what career they may want to pursue. With the total average investment in college exceeding $100,000 (according to this UNESCO/OECD report, page 164.includes direct costs, indirect costs and forgone earnings during time spend in college), students can be forgiven for wondering whether college is worth it.


To provide you with statistically based comfort and peace of mind, here are a few data points to remind you that the investment in higher education is likely to pay off.


First, check out this New York Times graphic. It interprets OECD data that shows the added value of a college education (as well as a stat comparing the percent of college graduates ages 25-34 by OECD country).


The OECD data referenced in the graphic concludes that the added value of a college education is well over $300,000, which would make it well worth the initial direct and inditect investment.

Note: you may notice that the graphic compares additional expected lifetime financial earnings for men who complete higher education. For methodological reasons, that’s how the OECD has chosen to calculate the comparative return. By reading the full report from UNESCO (see it here, view indicator A9), one can glean that women in the US should expect a lifetime return exceeding $300,000 from an investment in postsecondary education (page 167).



Perhaps you’re certain that a college degree is worth the investment, but you’re not sure if your particular degree will pay well when you graduate. In that case, there’s a great Georgetown University study that tackles the particulars of earnings by degree field.


In “What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors”, authors Carnevale, Strohl & Melton demonstrate specific median economic returns for undegraduate and graduate majors by field. Check the chart below for your own field, or click over to the full report for more detailed information.




Lastly, perhaps you’re more interested in projected job growth and pay. For such information seekers, there’s the ever-helpful US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Use the DOL’s OOH interactive site to sort jobs by pay or education requirements, as well as searching by fastest growing job fields or even alphabetically. 



We hope that you find these sources as useful as we have. We at College Parents of America will continue to bring you statistics on expected returns on the investment in higher education as storng sources become available.