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Is more education always better?

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Posted at 5:41 AM, Dec 02, 2021

Right about now, the high school students you care about are getting spammed like crazy by colleges that want them to take out loans and give the money to them. They're counting on the assumption that more education is always better, but is that true?

"The rules of the game have changed," said Anthony Carnevale, the Director of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce. "It's not just about going to college and getting a four-year degree. It's very complicated now."

We're running down the CEW's "College Payoff Report" with one question in mind: Is college worth it?

"What you make depends on what you take," said Carnevale.

Full time, full-year worker lifetime earnings generally do increase by education level, as shown in the chart below: $1.6 million with a high school diploma, $2 million with an associate's degree, $2.8 million with a bachelor's degree, $3.2 million with a master's degree, $4 million with a doctoral degree, and $4.7 million with a professional degree like medicine or law.


Collegepayoff Completed by ABC Action News

But those are median numbers, which means half of that category is making less, and half is making more, and that creates areas of overlap among these educational attainment categories.

"So that means that 40% of people who get BAs will make more than people who get graduate degrees because they're in the right field of study," said Carnevale.

So you might rack up $60,000 of additional college loan debt getting a Master's Degree in Library and Information Sciences, and be met with a starting salary of around $43,000 as a public librarian. While someone with a bachelor's in, say, mechanical engineering can expect a median starting salary of around $68,000.

That's around $25,000 more a year in income, without the $60,000 in additional debt for the masters.

"Thirty percent of people with two-year degrees will make more than people with bachelor's degrees, precisely because they're in the right field of study," said Carnevale. "And you can get a one-year certificate in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and you'll make more than a very substantial share, actually most, of the people with two-year degrees and at least half of the people with four-year degrees."

"So if you're not academically inclined, and your interests fall in a field that can make more income with less education, taking on college debt could be a waste," Carnevale added.

To make an informed choice about the value of a career, you need to know what kind of certification or degree do you need? how much will it cost? and how much will you make?

"The problem for people is that nobody tells anybody what the data says, and there is no counseling system," Carnevale said.

The best online federal resource is at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/. Go to the site, put in different kinds of programs and you can probably find most of the programs that are offered at institutions that you're thinking about.

Yes, college is expensive and student loan debt is forever. But overall education attainment still pays.

"Generally the debt is usually worth it because you may go to a training program, degree program, for a year, two years, four years, five years. Well, you're gonna work for 45 more years. So it's very hard to find -- although they're there, 'cause there are some programs that aren't worth anything but it's pretty easy if you're an educator or a trainer to say, 'I can add value over 45 years after you're done with me,'" Carnevale said.

These are big decisions, so demand answers before you dive in.

"The best strategy is to ask the institution, 'What happened to everybody else that did this in the last five years or so?' They have ways of knowing that," Carnevale said.