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The $550,000 college advantage: By the numbers
Over a lifetime, a college grad makes half a million dollars more than someone with only a high school diploma. Does that prove college is worth it?
 
A UCLA student fills out an application during a job fair in California: The typical college grad will make $1.42 million over a 40-year-career, according to new data.
A UCLA student fills out an application during a job fair in California: The typical college grad will make $1.42 million over a 40-year-career, according to new data.
Sandy Huffaker/CORBIS

The idea that college isn't really worth the hefty price tag (not to mention the daunting student loans) has been called "one of the year's most fashionable." But according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data, that buzzy idea may very well be wrong, at least in economic terms. The survey found that the typical adult with a college degree makes $550,000 more over a 40-year career than the average high school graduate. And yet, a second Pew study found that the majority of Americans don't think college is worth the money. Here, a brief guide, by the numbers:

$1.42 million
Amount the typical adult with a bachelor's degree makes over a 40-year-career

$770,000
Amount a high school graduate makes over those 40 years

$550,000
The difference in income over 40 years between a college and high school graduate

$19,550
Median gap in annual earnings between high school and college graduates

94
Percent of adults who say they expect their kids to go to college

57
Percent of adults who say America's higher education system doesn't provide families and students with good value for the money

53
Percent who said they are saving for college

75
Percent who said college was too expensive for the average American to afford

3
Factor by which the cost of college has multiplied, roughly, since 1980, adjusting for inflation. That's from around $10,000 annually to roughly $30,000.

$22,900
Amount of debt the average 2011 college grad leaves school with, making this year's class the most indebted class ever

57
Percent of adults between 18 and 34 who don't have a bachelor's degree, and aren't in college, who say they would prefer to work than go to school

45
Percent of students who showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing after their first two years of college, according to research cited by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, authors of Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

74
Percent of college grads who say "their college education was very useful in helping them increase their knowledge and grow intellectually"

55
Percent who said it was "very useful" in helping them get a job or start a career

52
Percent of freshmen who spent less than 15 hours per week studying, according to a study by the National Survey of Student Engagement

Sources: Pew Research Center, Wall Street Journal (2)(3), Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report

 

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