Going to college is still worthwhile financially, study says

College grad
College is still a good investment, but recent grads have faced tough job prospects and declining earnings, according to a new study.
(Kevin Swank / Associated Press)

Going to college is still a worthwhile financial investment despite soaring tuition costs and burdensome student debt, according to a new government study.

From 1970 to 2013, the average college graduate has earned about $64,500 a year versus $41,000 for someone with only a high school diploma, according to the analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Over a full working career, total earnings of the average college grad topped those of a high school grad by more than $1 million, the study found.

“Once the full set of costs and benefits is taken into account, investing in a college education still appears to be a wise economic decision for the average person,” the study concludes.


However, the picture isn’t nearly as bright for college students as it may seem.

The comparative value of a college degree is due partly to the steadily declining fortunes of high school grads rather than to sunny prospects for those attending college.

In fact, over the last dozen years, annual salaries for those with bachelor’s degrees have fallen 10.3%, according to the New York Fed. That’s even worse than the 7.6% drop for high school grads.

It’s unclear why college students have fared so badly, although the sluggish employment market for recent grads has been well chronicled.


“The average wages of college graduates have been falling for the better part of a decade, with the pace of decline accelerating after the Great Recession,” the study says.

The study also found that college grads majoring in fields such as engineering, math and computers, and healthcare outearned those studying liberal arts or education.

“Not all college degrees are an equally good investment,” the report said.

Follow Walter Hamilton on Twitter @LATwalter.

Get our weekly California Inc. newsletter