College Can Boost Your Income by 37%. Here Are the Best Schools for the Best Financial Results.

Even when Americans express their opinions growing skepticism On the value of a college degree: A new study shows “irrefutable” data that college graduates earn far more than those with only a high school education.

According to Statistics Netherlands (CBS), the median salary of graduates in 2024 will be approximately 37% higher than the median salary of people without a bachelor's degree. analysis from compensation firm PayScale. In dollar terms, college graduates earn about $78,400 a year in median wages, compared with $49,400 for those with a high school diploma, the study found.

Americans’ increasingly negative view of higher education comes amid rising tuition costs and the country’s ongoing student debt crisis, with millions of households struggling with a combined $1.7 trillion in student loans. While some professions don’t require a college degree and can still pay good wages — such as plumbing and electricians — the income and wealth gap between college and high school graduates remains significant.

For example, the wealth of young college graduates is about four times that of their less well-educated peers, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. found it earlier this year.

“Despite skyrocketing tuition costs and declining enrollment, our data shows that a college degree is still valuable in today’s job market, based on better salary outcomes,” said Amy Stewart, director of research and insights at Payscale, in a statement.

However, not every college offers the same level of economic boost, according to a separate PayScale analysisalso released Wednesday. Students should make “strategic choices” to avoid debt that is difficult to repay, and to avoid underemployment or work in jobs that do not require a college degree, Stewart added.

The Best Colleges for Return on Investment

One way to analyze the value of a college degree is to look at the return on investment (ROI). That’s the comparison between a graduate’s salary in 20 years minus the total cost of attending that college and the income of a high school senior.

Ideally, students and their families want to see their initial investment in college more than pay off in the form of higher salaries, compared to those of students with only a high school diploma.

Previous research has also shown that your choice of major in college has a big impact on ROI, with STEM degrees providing a bigger income boost than those in the humanities. For example, a Study 2023 Research from the HEA Group found that people who study operations research earn an annual income of about $112,000 four years after graduation, while those with a music degree earn about $34,000 a year.

Not surprisingly, some of the schools that deliver the best return on investment are STEM-focused universities and colleges, ranging from Harvey Mudd to the California Institute of Technology, or CalTech.

Colleges with lower costs of attendance also have a better ROI because students pay less over the course of their four-year education and typically have less debt. For example, Harvard’s total cost of attendance for four years is about $311,000, with an ROI of $1,032,000, compared to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy’s $24,500 total tuition cost and $1,352,000 ROI, PayScale data shows.

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