Does a College Education Pay Off?

Women Who Money
7 min readMar 14, 2022

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It feels like more than ever, our world requires a college degree.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicted eight years ago that by 2020, 65% of the nation’s jobs would require postsecondary education.

In 2018, 70% of workers were in those jobs, meaning that we have become even more educated than economists previously thought we would need to be.

Georgetown’s predictions for 2027 will publish soon and are similar to its past ones. There will be fewer jobs available for those without any type of post-high school degree. And more job opportunities will be available for employees with at least an associate degree.

These days, with only a high school diploma, it can be challenging to earn enough to achieve the exalted status of “middle class.”

American Public Media reports that “the wage gap between people who have bachelor’s degrees and people with only a high school diploma has nearly doubled since the early 1980s.”

But, at the same time, the financial burden of college degree programs continues to skyrocket.

ProPublica reports the cost of public colleges and in-state tuition rose by 80 percent from 2000 to 2014, while during the same period, median incomes dropped by 7%.

And the Education Data Initiative calculates that tuition and fees have increased 130%, after counting for inflation, since 1990.

What’s Causing the Rise in Tuition

Economist Beth Akers argues that there are four main drivers for tuition increase:

  • the “golden ticket” fallacy, or the idea that a degree from a high-priced university will pay off in the labor market
  • lack of transparency in college pricing
  • not enough local universities for the demand, especially for older students
  • excessive government regulation, meaning industry disruptors have a harder time breaking into the market
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