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How Much More Do College Graduates Earn Than Non-College Graduates?

Jan 07, 2020

College graduates usually earn more money than non-college graduates. The question is just how valuable is a college degree? As you will see, there can be a large gap in earnings between those who have a college degree and those who do not.

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Do College Graduates Make More Money?

The short answer is 'Yes!' According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the average weekly earnings. In most cases, each educational threshold leads to higher average salaries. For example, individuals with bachelor's degrees tend to have higher average earnings than those who have only a high school diploma or who have taken college courses without earning a degree.

How Much More Money do College Graduates Make than High School Graduates?

Take a look at the table below to see college degree vs. no college degree statistics from the BLS for 2017, 2018, and 2019. This table reflects average weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers who are 25 years old or older. You will see that the weekly earnings for degree holders vary according to the degrees they hold, and it should be noted that having some college credits even without a degree can put more money in an individual's pocket.

Educational Attainment Average Weekly Salary 2017* Average Weekly Salary 2018* Average Weekly Salary 2019 (3rd quarter)*
Master's degree $1,401 $1,434 $1,559
Bachelor's degree $1,173 $1,198 $1,281
Associate degree $836 $862 $874
Some college, no degree $774 $802 $874
High school diploma, no college $712 $730 $749
No high school diploma $520 $553 $606

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

High School Diploma vs. College Degree Salary

Even though it is generally true that having a college degree will help you earn more money than someone with a high school diploma, some occupations requiring a degree may pay the same or less than those requiring a high school diploma. There is no hard and fast rule that says every occupation requiring a degree will be high paying. Sometimes, salaries are determined more by the field than the job within that field. For example, in many cases, positions requiring bachelor's or master's degrees in social services or education pay less than their counterparts in business or finance. See the breakdown of some specific occupations and salaries below.

Occupation Entry-Level Education Requirements Average Annual Salary (2018)* Job Outlook (2018-2028)*
File Clerk High School Diploma $34,520 0%
Childcare Worker High School Diploma $23,240 2%
Police Officer High School Diploma $63,380 5%
Barber Postsecondary Non-degree Award $24,830 8%
Medical Assistant Postsecondary Non-degree Award $33,610 23%
Massage Therapist Postsecondary Non-degree Award $41,420 22%
Computer Network Support Specialist Associate Degree $53,470 10%
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians Associate Degree $64,330 0%
Architectural and Civil Drafter Associate Degree $55,550 0%
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists Bachelor's Degree $63,120 20%
Human Resources Specialists Bachelor's Degree $60,880 5%
Cost Estimator Bachelor's Degree $64,040 9%
Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselor Master's Degree $56,310 8%
Physician's Assistant Master's Degree $108,610 31%
Nurse Anesthetist Master's Degree $113,930 26%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupations Requiring Less Than an Associate Degree

Occupations that require less than an associate degree tend to fall in one of three categories: no educational credential, high school diploma, or postsecondary non-degree award or certificate. In 2018 the BLS listed 104 occupations that required no educational credential. However, many of these positions do require some experience in the field in order to increase earnings. There were over 300 occupations listed in the BLS Occupation Finder that required a high school diploma or equivalent or some college with no degree. Finally, the BLS reported 46 occupations that required post-secondary certificates in 2018. As seen from the table above, many careers for those with less than an associate degree pay between $20,000-$30,000.

Occupations Requiring a College Degree

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook allows you to filter results according to the education level required for entry-level positions. There were 47 occupations in 2018 requiring an associate degree for entry-level positions, 172 occupations requiring a bachelor's degree, and 37 occupations requiring a master's degree. Salaries can range from $50,000 to over $100,000 for those with a college degree.

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