The value of your education

I recently wrote on the $100,000 minimum wage, and ever-inflating compensation in the US.

The value of an education is also inflating.

Government reports on average earnings highlight the difference:

  • High school graduate: $42K
  • Bachelor’s degree: $75K
  • Professional degree: $153K
  • Doctorate: $141K

And from being a “nice to have” on the path to professional success, bachelor’s degrees are often seen as requirements.  (Please make sure we have your correct educational experience listed.)

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100 years ago, about 3% of the US population had a bachelor’s degree.  That’s now up to 35%.

Even 50 years ago, in 1970, only 10% of the population had graduated from college. That world is gone – the world of blue-collar journalists, Fortune 500 CEOs who had worked their way up from the mailroom or the quarry, and the expert who had graduated from the “school of hard knocks.” It’s also gone from popular culture, when blue-collar shows such as “Laverne & Shirley”, “Good Times” and “Alice” were the most watched in America.

And the bachelor’s degree doesn’t just pay off in wages, but also resilience.  The unemployment rate in April 2020, during the worst month of the pandemic, was distinctly different by educational background:

  • Less than high school: 20.9%
  • High School Graduate: 17.0%
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 8.2%

Last month, those numbers were 9.3%, 6.9%, and 3.5% unemployment respectively.

The increasing dominance of the bachelor’s degree in the US workforce has caused some to offer alternative solutions.  The Thiel Fellowship from Paypal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel “gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom.”  And Google’s new Career Certificates offer “job-ready skills you can put to work” with “flexible online training designed to put you on the fast track to jobs in high-growth fields.”

But these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

If anything, the trend is in the other direction, towards more education rather than less. The government reports that “in 2000, one-third of people with at least a bachelor’s degree had completed an advanced degree. By 2018, 37 percent had done so.”

We’re seeing more master’s degrees requirements creep into job descriptions here at Ladders and expect the trend to continue.

Among Ladders members today, 92% have bachelor’s degrees, and an additional 45% have master’s or professional degrees. It’s an indicator of how much education and professional advancement go hand-in-hand.

Where will we be at the end of this century? Over 75% of Americans with a bachelor’s degree? Over 50% with masters? At the current pace, that could very well be.

Of course, we’ll all be typing with our thoughts and reading a 3D phone screen projected inside of our head, so perhaps the master’s degree will help.

In the meantime, it’s enough to be aware of how much educational attainment on your resume has replaced social class or society connections as the gatekeeper to professional employment in the US.