What’s the Value of Your Education? Why College Degrees Aren’t Created Equal

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What’s the Value of Your Education? Why College Degrees Aren’t Created Equal

Last weekend, the federal government added updated data to its College Scorecard, an online resource for future students that tries to answer a simple question: What will my education be worth?

To answer this question, they've provided a whole host of useful statistics. For each university, you can find out facts that were previously difficult to research, including:

  • Average annual cost after financial aid (for public schools, the cost is based on in-state tuition)
  • Median income of graduates who receive financial aid
  • Graduation rate for full-time students

There's more too: Diversity stats, popular areas of study and average debt totals are all included.

For prospective students and their parents, this new site is a big win. For those of us who have already graduated, though, there's still plenty to see.

Not all degrees are created equal.

If you're anything like me, you checked out your school's ratings right away. But if you explore other schools' profiles as well, you'll likely notice that not all college degrees are equal when it comes to potential salary.

Unsurprisingly, if you're a graduate from a top academic institution like Harvard, MIT and University of Chicago, your median salary is typically higher than if you graduated from a for-profit college.

However, the New York Times compared two well-rated state universities -- UCLA and Penn State -- and found that on average, UCLA grads leave school with 30 percent less debt and those already in the workforce earn 30 percent more in annual salary than their Keystone State counterparts. Stats like this suggest that degrees from generally comparable schools might not always carry equal value.

So, was your degree worth it?

At this point, you may be comparing your student loan debt to your school's average salary -- or comparing your current income to what you could be making if you'd graduated from another school -- and regretting your education. If so, rest assured that you're not alone.

In July 2015, Credit Karma and Qualtrics surveyed 500 millennials to see how they felt about their student loans, and 28 percent of respondents said their education didn't bring them enough benefits to justify the steep investment.

However, it doesn't do well to dwell on the past. After all, you can't go back in time and choose another school or field of study. In addition, there's more to college than the sheer dollars and cents of it all -- your education may have been worth it just because of the connections you made or life experience you got.

But if you still can't get your student loan debt out of your mind, we may have some good news for you.

The Benefits of Graduating from College

According to a 2014 Pew Research study, millennials with a college degree are outperforming millennials with only a high school diploma in virtually every measure. Compared to their high school graduate counterparts, college graduates:

  • Are more likely to be employed full time
  • Are significantly less likely to be unemployed
  • Earn about $17,500 more annually if they're working full time

Bloomberg also reported that millennials with a college degree can expect to earn around $500,000 more during their lifetime.

So while your tuition may have been expensive, it can be helpful to keep reminding yourself that not graduating from college could have been far more costly.

Bottom Line

The College Scorecard can be a great resource for high schoolers trying to figure out which college they'd get the most out of. However, it can be discouraging for those of us that have already graduated to take a look at the numbers and think about what could have been.

No matter where you graduated from or the amount of your student loan debt, remember that the data included in the College Scorecard is just a bunch of averages. You aren't confined -- or defined -- by any of the numbers you see.

About the Author: Mike Goldstein is Copywriter at Credit Karma. Since joining the team in June 2013, he's been delivering the financial know-how on the daily. When away from work, you can find Mike watching hockey, Twittering for hours and frequenting trivia nights.

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