What is the economic, employment and social impact of a Bachelors degree?


It is easier for college graduates to find and hold jobs. The unemployment rate for college graduates was half the unemployment level of those with only high school diplomas. The 2012 unemployment rate for four-year college graduates ages 25-34 was 7.1% below that for high school graduates. Within their jobs, college graduates also report higher levels of job satisfaction than those with high school diplomas.



The median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working full time were $21,000 more than the earnings of those with high school degrees. As workers age, earnings rise more rapidly for those with higher levels of education. For example, the gap between the earnings of fulltime workers whose highest degree is a Bachelor’s degree and those of high school graduates grows from 54% for 25-29 year olds to 86% for 45-49 year olds.



College graduates have the opportunity to build on their Bachelor’s degree and pursue advanced degrees, which in turn have bigger payoffs on multiple levels. The average person with a Bachelor’s degree earns abut $51,000 a year but those who have gone on to earn law, business, medical, or other professional degrees earn about $100,000 a year. Of adults who grew up in middle family income group, 31% of those with a four-year college degree moved up to the top income group between 2000 and 2008, compared with 12% of those with high school degrees.



College graduates are more likely to get jobs with health insurance and pension benefits from their employers, which highly impacts the quality of life. In 2011, employers provided pension plans to 52% of fulltime workers with high school diplomas, 65% of those with bachelor’s degrees, and 73% of those with advanced degrees. In 2011, employers provided health insurance to 55% of fulltime workers with high school diplomas, 69% of those with bachelor’s degrees, and 73% of those with advanced degrees. College-educated adults smoke less, exercise more, and have lower obesity rates. These differences not only affect the lifestyles and life expectancies of individuals but also reduce medical costs for society as a whole. Mothers with higher levels of education spend more time on their children’s activities which increases the overall quality of civil society.



In 2012, 42% of four-year college graduates, 29% of adults with some college or an associate degree, and 17% of high school graduates volunteered for organizations. Among adults ages 45 to 64, 59% of high school graduates and 80% of bachelor’s degree recipients voted in the 2012 election.



Federal, state, and local governments enjoy increased tax revenues from college graduates and spend less on income support programs for them, providing a direct financial return on investments in postsecondary education. In 2011, 12% of high school graduates ages 25 and older lived in households that relied on SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, compared to just 2% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree. The pattern was similar for the National School Lunch Program.

The information provided in this page is collected from the research of the College Board, which is a mission driven non-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Authors Sandy Baum (research professor at George Washington University), Jennifer Ma (independent consultant), and Kathleen Payea (policy analyst) have compiled the report titled Education Pays: 2013 – The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society. Substantial evidence indicates that the associations described above are the result of increased educational attainment, not just of individual characteristics.


Compiled by Julie Olaf, UPEP Research Assistant, Fall 2017. SOURCE: Baum, S., Ma, J., & Payea, K. (2013). Education Pays, 2013: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society. Trends in Higher Education Series. Washington, D.C.: College Board. For more, see: www.upep.utah.edu