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Study: Four-year degree is worth more than ever before

A new report by the Pew Research Center shows the earnings gap between high school and college graduates in 2012 was the highest it had been in nearly 50 years.

The Pew study shows that a college education is correlated with higher median earnings for 25- to 32-year-olds than at any time since the survey began. In 1965, a worker in that same age group with a bachelor’s degree earned an annual salary of $38,833, as adjusted to 2012 dollars. In 2012, individuals with the same level of education brought in $45,500 a year.

A U.S. News & World Report story on the Pew study noted that other studies show that many college graduates of that Millenial generation remain “underemployed, working jobs that are well below their qualifications.”

"How do those two facts square with each other? 'It’s not just that earnings are improving for college graduates,' says one of the (Pew) report’s authors, 'it’s that life for high school-only graduates has gotten tougher,'" the U.S. News story stated.

The Pew study, titled "The Rising Cost of Not Going to College," showed 25- to-32-year-olds with just a high school degree were three times more likely to be in poverty than that same age group 35 years ago.

In 2012, Pew found 21.8 percent of Millenials without a college degree were living in poverty, compared with 5.8 percent of those with a degree. College graduates were also less likely to be unemployed than just high school graduates (3.8 percent versus 12.2 percent).

The differences don’t end there. The college graduates were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs (53 percent, compared with 37 percent) and much more likely to feel like they have a career or career-track job compared with their cohorts without a degree (86 percent to 57 percent).

A college degree isn't just good for credentials, however, wrote John Warner in Inside Higher Ed.: "(I)t's the process of being educated that has a far bigger impact on one's life trajectory."

He may be on to something. The University of Chicago Press is publishing a paper that suggests “a (high school) diploma is essentially a piece of paper” and little else. Researchers found those who barely passed high school exit exams did not earn significantly more than those who barely failed the exam.

"In this way, a high school diploma is different from other pieces of paper that do make a big difference," writes Holly Yettick in Education Week.



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