Education Pays 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Families

By Betsy Prueter

A recent report from The College Board provides analysis on differences in earnings and employment rates of U.S. adults with various levels of education. The report also examines the disparities across demographic groups in college participation and completion and highlights differences in health-related behaviors, reliance on public assistance, and civic participation between college graduates and those without a college degree.

Among the report’s findings:

  • U.S. adults with a college degree earn higher salaries than those without a degree. Median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients ages 25 and older working full time and year round were $56,500 (before taxes) in 2011, $21,100 more than median earnings of high school graduates.
    • In 2011, individuals with master’s degrees earned twice as much than high school graduates working full time ($70,000 vs. $35,400). Individuals with doctoral degrees working full time earned 2.4 times as much high school graduates.
    • The differences in earnings between those with a bachelor’s degree and those with only a high school diploma grow larger as adults grow older. A college graduate 25-29 years old working full time earns, on average, $15,200 more than a high school graduate, and a college graduate 45-49 years old earns, on average, $32,000 more than an individual with only a high school diploma.
  • U.S. adults with college degrees were more likely to be employed than those without a degree in 2012.
    • The 2012 unemployment rate for four-year college graduates was 3%, for those with an associate’s degree it was 5%, and for those with some college but no degree, it was 6%.
  • Unemployment rates for adults with a college degree in 2012 differed by race. For Hispanic adults the rate was 5.1%, for black adults, the rate was 6.3% and for white adults, the rate was 3.7%.
    • Unemployment rates for adults with only a high school diploma in 2012 also differed by race. For Hispanic adults the rate was 9%, for blacks, the rate was13.4%, and for whites, the rate was 7.5%.
  • The college enrollment rate of high school graduates from the lowest-income bracket (under $18,300) increased from 42% in 1992 to 52% in 2012. The rate for middle-income families (between $34,060 and $55,253) increased from 53% in 1992 to 65% in 2012, and the rate increased from 78% in 1992 to 82% in 2012 for the highest-income families (above $90,500).
  • 34% of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2012, compared to 24% in 1980 and 1990, and 6% in 1950.