Career Earnings: The Importance of a College Degree for Career Earnings and Growth


Career Earnings: The Importance of a College Degree for Career Earnings and Growth

In an evolving job market and changing perceptions about the value of a college education, it is crucial to understand the role that a degree plays in career earnings and growth. While the choice of school has traditionally been seen as a significant factor in future success, recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as reported by Axios, suggests that the school a degree comes from is becoming less relevant. This article aims to delve into the significance of a college degree, highlighting its impact on lifetime earnings and debunking the notion that the prestige of the institution is the sole determinant of success.

Wage Gap and Lifetime Career Earnings

The wage gap between recent college graduates and high school graduates has been widening, with college graduates earning significantly higher salaries. According to the data tracked by the NY Fed, in 2023, recent college grads between the ages of 22-27 working full-time earned $24,000 more per year than their counterparts with only a high school degree. Back in 1990, this gap was $15,000. Importantly, this wage premium is found to double over the course of a worker’s lifetime, thus having a great effect on career earnings. Research economist David Deming’s study reveals that at age 25, college-educated individuals have a 27% premium over high school only graduates, which increases to 60% by age 55.

Accrued Value of Higher Education

While the focus is often on the immediate benefits for recent graduates, the true value of a college education extends over a worker’s lifetime. Even individuals who do not graduate from college tend to have higher career earnings than those who do not pursue higher education at all. The ability to consistently earn more evolved workers with college degrees remains apparent. Professions such as marketing, human resources, and journalism often experience considerable wage growth over time, while jobs typically obtained with a high school diploma tend to offer limited wage growth opportunities.

Beyond Career Earnings: Additional Benefits

Earnings are not the only factor impacted by a college degree. More educated workers also enjoy numerous benefits, including the ability to work remotely, access to paid sick and family leave, and health insurance. These additional advantages contribute to an improved quality of life and job satisfaction, enhancing the broader rewards associated with a college education.

School Prestige vs. Achievement

The notion that the school from which a degree is obtained is the primary determinant of success is becoming less relevant. While attending a prestigious institution may provide certain advantages, recent data suggests that the value of a degree is not solely tied to the perceived reputation of the school. The widening wage gap between college and high school graduates demonstrates that a college degree, regardless of the institution, remains a crucial factor in career earnings.

Given the prevalence of college graduates, which was not historically the case, a college degree has essentially become what the high school degree was in the past; essentially, it is a required certification. These days, the graduate degree has essentially taken the place of what a college degree used to represent. For those seeking a wide variety of professions, the brand of the graduate degree brands tends to add real value.


The value of a college degree for career earnings and growth is undeniable. Economic data consistently supports the notion that obtaining a degree provides individuals with a lifetime career earnings advantage, improved job prospects, and a range of additional benefits. While school prestige may carry some weight, it is becoming less relevant compared to the overall attainment of a college education. As the job market continues to evolve, it is essential to recognize that a college degree, irrespective of the institution, serves as a reliable pathway to unlocking greater opportunities for success and professional fulfillment.

Furthermore, the changing landscape of the job market and the rise of alternative educational pathways, such as online learning and vocational training, have further diminished the importance of school prestige. Employers are increasingly placing value on practical skills, relevant experience, and a demonstrated ability to adapt to evolving industry demands. This shift in focus highlights the importance of developing a well-rounded set of skills and knowledge, regardless of the specific institution attended. Ultimately, it is the individual’s drive, dedication, and continuous learning that will have the greatest impact on career growth and success, rather than the name of the school on their degree.

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