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May 19, 2021 at 1:19 pm

Degree + Work Experience = Higher Earnings, Study Says

Rahul Patel gets a hug from his mother Jenny Patel at undergraduate commencement 2016.

Rahul Patel gets a hug from his mother Jenny Patel at undergraduate commencement 2016. Photo by Ben Siegel

A new study from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences shows significant earnings increases for those with a bachelor’s degree – in any major.

Add in years of work experience, and the study shows that “earning a bachelor’s degree, in any major, provides a substantial financial advantage over those who do not attain the degree,” according to a report from the academy’s Humanities Indicators that explores recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. “While earning an undergraduate degree provides a substantial economic improvement, earning an additional degree provides a greater financial advantage,” the report noted.

“Politicians and the media often compare average earnings among college graduates from various fields, dwelling particularly on the substantial gap in earnings for engineers compared to humanities majors. It is important, however, to keep in mind that earning any college degree provides a substantial financial and employment advantage. Median earnings for workers with only a high school diploma were substantially lower (around $35,000) than those of college graduates from every field.”

The report notes that graduates from academic disciplines such as the humanities and the life, physical, and social sciences are widely dispersed among management, professional, or related occupations.

“Among college graduates with only a bachelor’s degree, engineering majors had the highest median earnings ($88,139); education majors had the lowest ($45,589). In comparison, graduates from the liberal arts and sciences fell modestly below the median for all college graduates in this category (almost $63,000). For instance, graduates from the humanities and the life, behavioral, and social sciences had median earnings of between $55,000 and $59,000.”

Years of Work Experience Pay Off

The study uses age as a proxy for work experience, and found that “among older adults with just an undergraduate degree, more than one in four had annual earnings above $100,000 in 2018, attesting to the fact that every field offers a path to financial success….

“For instance, while fields such as the humanities are often faulted for offering a limited path to financial success, the data show that substantial shares of workers with a bachelor’s degree from almost every field have significant earnings later in life. Among older adults with just an undergraduate degree, more than one in four had annual earnings above $100,000 in 2018, attesting to the fact that every field offers a path to financial success….

“Among those with advanced degrees in most fields, the upper earnings are even higher (with more than one in four across most fields making more than $140,000 per year). The top earnings for graduates from the life and physical sciences are particularly notable, with more than a quarter of those who have gone on to earn an advanced degree making more than $200,000 – placing them above engineering majors.”

 

 

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