NEBHE report: Income data shows college education remains great value

PROVIDENCE – Yes, a college education has gotten expensive, but a new report from the New England Board of Higher Education says the costs are still worth it.

The NEBHE report, “What’s the Value of Higher Education? Insights for State and Institutional Leaders,” finds that “the opportunity costs” over the course of a career far outweigh the burden of tuition to get a postsecondary credential.

The average associate-degree holder in New England earns roughly $5,400, or 17%, more annually than someone with only a high school diploma. The corresponding “wage premium” for a bachelor’s degree in the region is even greater: The average four-year college graduate can expect to earn approximately $19,600, or 62%, more per year than a high school graduate.

NEBHE said the report is the first in a series that takes a look at the data for New England to make the case for the value of individual and public investments in higher education, despite the skyrocketing costs.

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The series will explore regional figures on attainment, income, unemployment, poverty and civic engagement, among other data points.

In recent years, a college degree has become increasingly valuable. Yet, today’s incoming college students tend to be more skeptical about the value of higher education, and a 2018 Gallup poll indicates that Americans’ confidence in higher education is dropping faster than for any other U.S. institution.

Among the findings in the NEBHE report:

  • About 2.5 million people between ages 25 and 64 in New England do not have an associate degree or higher. If half of these individuals earned an associate degree, this would generate an additional $6.7 billion annually in taxable wages across the region. If the same number earned a bachelor’s degree, it would mean an added $17.7 billion annually in taxable wages.
  • On average, an associate-degree holder in New England can expect to earn $410,582 more over the course of their career than someone with only a high school diploma.
  • The average person with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn nearly $1.5 million more over the course of their career than an individual without any education beyond high school.
  • In January 2017, the average unemployment rate for an individual with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 2.9%, compared with 5.4% for individuals with some college or an associate degree, and 7.4% for those with a high school diploma only.