As I rode around running errands with my wife this morning, the local news station reminded us back-to-school time is approaching. And, given the continuing controversies related to the student debt crises, I wondered whether to continue urging jobseekers to advance their education. Spoiler alert: the answer is yes!
There are at least four reasons to push onward with education:
- You are likely to earn more,
- Your chances of being unemployed will be lower,
- You will benefit even if you do not complete that degree, and
- Degree graduate programs are not the only option.
The urging you may have received from your school counselors, career coaches, spouse, parents, or friends are well founded in statistics. A May 2023 post on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website convincingly demonstrates that you are likely to earn more when you learn more, per the chart below:
|Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment, 2022|
|Educational attainment||Median usual weekly earnings||Unemployment rate|
|Some college, no degree||935||3.5|
|High school diploma||853||4.0|
|Less than a high school diploma||682||5.5|
|Note: Data are for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.|
The difference in earnings between high school graduates and those who attended college and graduate school is amazing. Workers with advanced degrees earned at least twice the weekly wage of those with high school diplomas in 2022. And workers with professional degrees—doctors and lawyers, for example—had more than three times the earning power of a high school graduate.
Of course, most of us don’t have advanced degrees. Those with bachelor’s degrees earned 168% of wages earned by workers with high school diplomas. Those with high school diplomas achieved a median income of $853 per week, while those with four-year college degrees earned a median income of $1432 per week. In other words, you do not need an advanced degree to reap the economic benefits of education.
The median income workers earn, then, was tied to their highest level of formal education in 2022. That does not mean you will land your dream job now or 10 years from now if you invest in a four year college or advanced degree. It does not even mean you will get the salary you feel you are worth, or the salary your college career office says you should earn. The data means that you are likely to earn more money with the best possible education. BLS says “individual experience may differ.”
Your chance of being unemployment is lower with more education.
Unemployment is a costly experience. State and federal unemployment benefits won’t match your salary in most cases so it is important to minimize the likelihood you will become unemployed. According to BLS statistics workers with high school diplomas had an unemployment rate of about 4% in 2022, while those with four-year college degrees had 2.2% unemployment. Workers with graduate and professional degrees had 2022 unemployment rates below 2%. (Those with doctoral degrees had a 1% unemployment rate.)
It’s as important to earn a reliable and steady income as it is to earn a high income for many of us, so reducing our risk of unemployment is essential.
You will benefit if you don’t complete the degree.
We know that “life happens” so some of us have not completed degrees. According to BLS, those workers with “some college, no degree” still earned 2022 median salaries of $935 per week instead of $853 per week.
College and grad school programs are not the only option.
When I began career advising more than 20 years ago, I told clients that their most important education was a college degree. Anything else seemed to have little credibility with employers.
Last year, a recruiter told me he has found that the college degree is not the only credential that matters anymore. This is true for at least two reasons. First, industry certifications have increased in importance. Second, short-term courses indicate you have gained additional skills and can add valuable keywords to your LinkedIn profile and resume.
The recruiter said he has received job orders specifying an industry certification as a requirement and a college degree as “preferred” instead of “required.” What this means is that, in some cases, you may want to promote your industry credentials when you lack a college degree.
You may also benefit from short online courses that do not lead to formal certifications because they add keywords to your LinkedIn profile. For example, I “attended” a SkillShare class on blog writing. LinkedIn added the class to my profile, with my approval, so blog writing has been added to the keywords on my profile. Recruiters scan profiles electronically, so the keyword may bring a profile to an employer’s attention.
There is no way a two-hour class in blog writing, or anything else, for that matter, will give you the same knowledge, skill, and credibility you will get from a college degree. People hire people, though, so it is important to get through the electronic filters and appear in a hiring team member’s virtual inbox.
Apprenticeship programs are another option.
Fortunately, there is an option that offers more meaningful training than short online courses, while avoiding the expense of a four-year degree in some industries. Apprenticeship programs where employees learn while in a salaried job have existed for years in skilled manufacturing and construction trades. Now, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, apprenticeships exist in high-demand fields such as IT and healthcare. More than 90% of apprentices remain in their jobs after completing their training, and earn median salaries of about $60,000. Investigate this option for your occupation and industry if a college degree is not the right choice for you.
The job market is competitive even in an economy with low unemployment so you need to differentiate yourself from others applying for the job you want. Statistics show that formal degrees are one way to earn more and get an edge on the competition.