New Report Shows College Degree Continues To Provide Better Employment Prospects And Higher Income
The latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on the status of education in the United States shows that individuals with a college degree continue to enjoy both better employment prospects and greater annual earnings than those with lesser levels of education.
That’s one of the key takeaways from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Report on the Condition of Education 2022, an annual report mandated by the U.S. Congress that summarizes the latest data on our nation’s education, ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary levels. In addition, the report includes information about labor force outcomes and international comparisons.
Educational Attainment Levels
Between 2010 and 2021, educational attainment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds increased. During this period:
- The percentage of people of this age who had completed high school increased from 89% to 94%,
- The percentage with an associate’s or higher degree increased from 41 to 49%,
- The percentage with a bachelor’s or higher degree increased from 32 to 39%,
- The percentage with a master’s or higher degree increased from 7 to 9%
In general, educational attainment rates increased for both males and females in this age group as well as for most racial/ethnic groups. For example, between 2010 and 2021, the percentages of individuals completing a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by:
- 16 percentage points for Asians (from 56 to 72%),
- 6 percentage points for Whites (from 39 to 45%),
- 7 percentage points for Blacks (from 19 to 26%) and
- 10 percentage points for Hispanics (from 13 to 23%).
In March 2021, approximately one year into the coronavirus pandemic, the employment rate of 25- to 34-year-olds was higher for those with greater levels of educational attainment, ranging from:
- 53% for those who had not completed high school,
- 68% for high school graduates,
- 75% for those with some college but no degree, and
- 86% for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
The employment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds overall increased from 73% in 2010 to 76% in 2021. However, changes in employment rates also differed by educational attainment. Compared with 2010, employment rates were higher in 2021 only for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree, increasing from 84% in 2010 to 86% in 2021.
For those in this age group with lower levels of educational attainment, the employment rate in 2021 was not measurably different from the rate in 2010.
While employment rates increased between 2010 and 2019 for those with some college but no degree (from 73 to 80%) and for those who’d completed high school (from 68 to 74%), those gains were lost during the pandemic. For these two groups, employment rates were lower in 2021 (75% and 68%, respectively) than in 2019. For individuals not completing high school, employment rates in 2021 and 2019 were not different from those in 2010 or from each other.
Looking at the flip side – the unemployment rate – a similar pattern is found. Unemployment rates in 2021 for 25-34 year olds, ranged from:
- 11% for those with less than a high school education,
- 10% for high school graduates,
- 9% for those with some college but no degree and
- 4% for people with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
For 25- to 34-year-olds working full time, year round, greater levels of educational attainment continue to be associated with higher median earnings. This pattern held true for every year from 2010 through 2020.
In 2020, the median earnings of those with different levels of completed education were as follows:
- Less than high school – $29,800
- High school graduate – $36,600
- Some college, no degree – $39,900
- Associate’s degree – $44,100
- Bachelor’s degree – $59,600
- Master’s degree or higher – $69,700
In other words, the annual earnings for those with a master’s or higher degree were 17% percent higher than the earnings of those whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree ($59,600).
The median earnings of people with a bachelor’s degree were 63% larger than the earnings of those whose highest educational level was the completion of high school.
And an associate’s degree also continued to be linked to greater earnings – providing a 20% boost over the median earnings of those with a high school education.
While the debate about the economic value of college continues to swirl, driven sometimes by concerns over costs, sometimes by current labor market considerations and sometimes by misleading but politically expedient rhetoric, the long-standing relationship between higher levels of educational attainment and better economic prospects has once again been confirmed.
Certainly, there are many important nuances to this relationship, involving student demographics, regional differences, the effects of one’s major field of study, and the type of college attended, to name just a few, but the fundamental finding continues to hold: a college degree on average is associated with substantial employment and income advantages.