This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

College is Worth It: Trust the Numbers

Every spring, as college graduation ceremonies come around, the accompanying question is: Was this worth it? Obviously, as a college professor, I am biased. Yes, a college education is worth it because it makes you a better person. But the numbers consistently show that it also makes you a better-off person, in terms of more lifetime dollars in your pocket. Today's NYTimes summarizes data from the Economy Policy Institute. 
The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year, according to the new data, which is based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. Americans with four-year college degrees made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree. That’s up from 89 percent five years earlier, 85 percent a decade earlier and 64 percent in the early 1980s.
These are obviously averages and not every college graduate makes more than every person without a college degree, but the odds are clearly in your favor if you get that degree, no matter how many people might try to talk you out of it.
When experts and journalists spend so much time talking about the limitations of education, they almost certainly are discouraging some teenagers from going to college and some adults from going back to earn degrees. (Those same experts and journalists are sending their own children to college and often obsessing over which one.) The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014.
The much-discussed cost of college doesn’t change this fact. According to a paper by Mr. Autor {from MIT] published Thursday in the journal Science, the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.
Whoa, doctor! You can't afford NOT to go to college. That's a pretty impressive conclusion. 


  1. Correlation is not causation. Intelligent, hard-working and ambitious people who are more likely to desire and accomplish academic degree are also more likely to earn above average income.
    Does studying in college help an average student to earn higher income? Perhaps, but the correlation between college and income is no proof of that.

    1. Of course you are right that we always need to be careful about causation. However, your comment suggests that students may not really learn anything useful in college. As a college professor, I naturally have to reject that idea :-)

  2. Couldn't agree more. Sure, you can be eligible for work with secondary education, yet it's quite another story to be able to elevate not only your level of knowledge, but the terms of your expertise as well. That is why college is such a wise investment. After all, you will need to build up yourself your own brand in order to attract the most high-paying professions, right?

    John McDonough @ The Studemont Group