One goal of this blog is to bring your attention to additional information that will hopefully prove valuable in deciding on an educational and career path. The US government puts out a lot of useful information along these lines, but it is not always easy to find, and sometimes takes some digging to get at the information that will be most useful to you. Today’s post deals with one such case.

The US Census Bureau puts out an annual report on work-life earnings by degree and occupation which you can find here (PDF).

Earnings are better for holders of 2-year degrees than those who have left college without graduating.

The report calculates “synthetic” work-life earnings for various occupational fields, degrees, and levels of educational attainment. Here, synthetic work-life earnings just means average earnings over 40 years for people from age 25-64.

Let’s look at some of these synthetic work-life earnings by educational attainment:

  • High school graduate: $1,371,000
  • Some college: $1,632,000
  • Associates degree: $1,813,000
  • Bachelor’s degree: $2,422,000

As you can see, a 2-year Associates degree earns more – on average – than someone who hasn’t completed college. This strongly suggests that, if you aren’t that certain about college, and/or don’t think you are that motivated by the idea of a college degree, that you should consider a 2-year path. This is particularly true since college can be very expensive and will often burden you with a lot of debt, while a 2-year degree is relatively inexpensive.

To avoid any confusion, it should be noted that the the lifetime earnings in the Census report are calculated differently than in the College Risk Report. The College Risk Report views a degree as an upfront investment with an annual payout (salary) and discounts future earnings according to the traditional present value model using the discount rate. It also subtracts the costs of obtaining a degree from those earnings, while Census report does not account for this expense, which can be substantial at a lot of colleges.