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More Education, More Money!

by Joe Taylor Jr.

While some parents scramble to enroll their children in prestigious universities, many working adults without college degrees often wonder if they might benefit from additional education and career training. Data collected by government and private researchers shows that professionals with bachelor's degrees or higher earn significantly higher salaries than adults who stopped attending classes after high school.

The shift away from manufacturing towards a service economy has made earning a college degree a valuable career goal. Government analysts recently released data that illustrates just how wide the salary gap has grown between college degree holders and working high school graduates over the past ten years.

Associate's Degrees Offer 23 Percent Pay Raise

Earning an associate's degree in a high-demand field like nursing is one of the quickest ways to accelerate your income. While working high school graduates often earned more than $30,000 last year, most graduates of associate's degree programs earned over $37,000, an increase of 23 percent. Since most associate's degree programs can be completed part-time, they offer students one of the most convenient ways to qualify for better paying jobs.

Bachelor's Degrees Bump Income by 61 Percent

By adding two more years to most associate's degree programs, you can earn a bachelor's degree and qualify for even more lucrative jobs in a variety of specialized fields. In 2006, most bachelor's degree holders earned over $50,000 per year, a 61 percent difference than working high school graduates. 1996 figures showed only a 55 percent difference, underscoring the increased need for a bachelor's degree in today's job market.

Double Your Income with a Master's Degree

Reflecting the higher salaries earned by highly skilled workers, most professionals with master's degrees earned over $59,500 in 2006, nearly double the typical salary of a working high school graduate. In addition, the unemployment rate for professionals with a master's degree dropped to an astonishing 1.7 percent, reflecting the resurgence of the high-tech sector in the job market.

MBA Degrees Result in Record Salary Offers

Although government researchers did not specifically track the difference in salaries between holders of MBA degrees and graduates from other disciplines, recent news reports indicate that MBA degree programs are producing executives with some of the highest starting salaries in recent history. For instance, a Wall Street Journal survey concluded that over 80 percent of 2007 graduates with MBA degrees received salary offers of $75,000 or more. Meanwhile, a New York Times report discovered that MBA degree programs offered women some of the best opportunities to rejoin the work force after taking time away from their careers to raise families.

Doctoral Degrees Offer Job Security Along with Personal Wealth

Finally, most professionals with doctoral degrees reported earning over $74,900 in 2006, nearly a 150 percent increase in salary compared to working high school graduates. While that increase is slightly smaller than the 161 percent gap between the two groups in 1996, economists attribute the decline to the smaller salary increases earned by academics and other research professionals who enjoy tremendous job security and an unemployment rate of under 1.5 percent.

Cash Concerns Keep High School Grads from Seeking Bachelor's Degrees

Economists have identified two factors that often discourage potential college graduates from enrolling in college degree programs. First, many working parents and other adults on tight budgets may feel that they cannot find a way to pay for college. Second, many adults who enter the workforce directly from high school feel like they can earn more money over the course of their lifetimes compared to friends with associate's degrees or other diplomas.

However, government statistics show that, over the long term, graduates of advanced degree programs still retain far more of their incomes than workers who stop attending class after high school. Some economists recognize that high school graduates in the workforce realize more government benefits and fewer taxes than peers who continued on to bachelor's degree programs. However, the increased salaries earned over the lifetime of a college graduate lay the groundwork for an overall higher quality of life.

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