Is College Worth it?

Deciding whether or not to attend college is one of the biggest career and financial decisions many people face. On the one hand, a college degree is a required credential for many jobs and career paths. On the other hand, it typically takes at least four years to complete and is more expensive than ever.

So is the college investment worth it? According to Eric Burnette, Director of Labor Market Intelligence at KentuckianaWorks, it usually is. 

"The average premium you earn for going to college over your career is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Burnette says. "In Louisville, the median wage for someone with a Bachelor's Degree is about $50,000. For someone with only a high school degree, it's about half of that. So take that $25,000 difference and multiply it by 30 (years) and that's a lot of money."

It’s even more worth it to go to college than it used to be, and it’s even harder to be someone with a high school diploma or less than it used to be.
— Eric Burnette, Director of Labor Market Intelligence, KentuckianaWorks

And even though college costs have been outpacing inflation for many years, the earnings value of a college degree in our economy has also been rising. 

"The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found a couple years ago that the college earnings premium is higher now than it was when costs were lower. So it's even more worth it to go to college than it used to be, and it's even harder to be someone with a high school diploma or less than it used to be," Burnette says. 

Although the big picture numbers still indicate that college degrees are usually worth the investment, Burnette cautions those considering college to not take their decisions lightly: "All the data says college is worth it, but the majors perform very differently. In some ways, what you major in in college is more important than whether or not you go to college. Take anthropology for example: anthropology majors in Louisville earn about $20,000 per year five years after graduation."

However, that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't pursue a major that's on the lower end of median wages for the area. "You should just be aware that it's going to be pretty hard to get a job right out of school if that's the only credential you've got," Burnette says. 

You can listen to this full conversation, which also includes data about the value of liberal arts degrees, trade apprenticeships, and more, in the player below. This episode of the brand new JobPod Podcast is also available on iTunes and in the Apple Podcast app. 

If you're in the Louisville region and need assistance applying to college, contact the KentuckianaWorks College Access Center. For up-to-date data on majors, salaries, and careers in the region, check out the Career Calculator