Students who invest in college and graduate education often reap
the financial rewards throughout their careers.
(Mark Hall/AP Photo)
Four Years of Higher Education
Can Pay Off for a Lifetime
By Romy Ribitzky
- When Susan Lindner wanted to study anthropology at a small
liberal arts college, her father's response was:
"Anthropology?! That's a road-map to the poor
Considering high tuition costs, it's no wonder that Lindner's
dad was worried.
A look at the cost side of the equation bears him out. The
average tuition for a four-year private university stood at
$17,123 for the 2000-2001 academic year, according to the
College Board, up from $10,330 for the 1995-1996 academic year.
The average student borrows slightly more than $12,000 to
finance higher education.
Initial costs aside, however, the payoff seems clear. As of
2000, the median annual earnings of workers with professional
degrees were more than 3.5 times those of high school dropouts,
finds the latest occupational outlook from the federal Bureau of
here for expert advice on choosing a college.
In fact, an upcoming report on the relative earnings of
full-time year-round workers by education level, from the
Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policy Foundation, further
shows that the more you learn the more you earn.
average bachelor's degree holder can earn nearly double
the salary of a high school graduate. (Source:
Employment Policy Foundation)
Although simply completing high school improves earnings
outlook, the average high school graduate will earn an estimated
average annual income of $30,109 and $1.2 million in a lifetime.
The average college graduate stands to net nearly twice as
much, with a $51,097 average annual income adding up over 40
years of earning potential to more than $2.04 million.
Studies to the Test
Lindner herself became a good example of how an education can
help the bottom line.
She ended up making a decent salary - $42,000 - working as a
field anthropologist in Thailand trying to help women find
alternatives to prostitution. And, her compensation rose when
she became an AIDS researcher with the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
She has since managed to parlay her field experience into a
successful career at a New York City public relations firm where
she earns approximately triple her starting salary.
"All the skills I learned out there - including trying
to persuade married men to use condoms when they are with
prostitutes - have helped a lot," she says. "When it
really comes down to it, learning how to speak in another
person's language is what P.R. people do with their
At a minimum, experts say a bachelor's degree makes sense
whether prospective students covet the corner office or just a
"Today a college degree is as essential to a successful
career as a high school diploma was years ago," says Jeff
Heath, president of New York City-based Landstone Group/MRI, an
executive search firm.
Ranking among the most popular, and most profitable
undergraduate majors, says Robert Franek, editorial director of
test prep firm The Princeton Review in New York, would be any
business, technology and health-related course of study -
management, accounting, computer science, nursing and biology.
Learning Curve: Most Popular Fields of Study
Education and Teaching
Language and Literature
The more liberal arts-based majors, like English,
communications and education, are also in high demand, but tend
to be harder to quantify, he adds.
Add an MBA, JD or MD into the mix, and an individual's
An MBA, for instance, can help the right person become even
more successful by teaching a complete business vocabulary,
offering access to new career opportunities, developing
leadership skills and greatly enhancing professional networks,
explains Jon McBride, co-founder of the Jungle Media Group, a
career and lifestyle magazine company in New York.
Adds Heath, "Think of education as an insurance policy.
Unless you open your own business and it takes off, you're going
to be working for a company. And education works in the
This Job and Keep It
A higher level of education not only tends to make finding a
job easier, it helps retain a job, especially in trying economic
times, according to Ronald Bird, EPF's chief economist.
Someone who finishes a degree is more likely to have job
security and find jobs more easily, he adds.
In fact, EPF data shows that the demand for highly skilled
personnel has grown by half a million people in 2001, despite
the mild recession. And, the unemployment rate for all degree
holders has stayed under 3 percent, far lower than the 5.9
percent national average.
The findings don't surprise experts. "If there are no
jobs in banking, for instance, an MBA will also help you get a
job in government, non-profit work, etc.," explains
Moreover, McBride says that when his magazine surveyed MBA
alums in the marketplace, they reported that in good times and
bad, their professional and personal networks - often built
while getting degrees - are key to finding jobs.
As important is the ability for students to get a taste of
their career options through internships.
"An internship is a great way to figure out whether
you'll be able to make a career out of your course of
study," says Franek. "Think of how much time and money
you can save by finding out either that you love your area of
study, you should find a different interest or that you should
go to graduate school to hone in your talents," he adds.
In the final analysis, says Bird, it is often simply that a
graduate has gone the full route of completing a degree that is
most attractive to employers.
Adds Heath, "Beside learning a new skill set, graduates
prove that they know how to pursue a course of action and
deliver on it. There's real credibility in that."