Does a college degree or certificate truly pay off?

by Dr. David H. Devier
President, Glen Oaks Community College

A college degree pays off — but by just how much? The College Board has published its latest report about the economic benefits of higher education. Education Pays 2019: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society documents differences in earnings and employment status for U.S. adults with different levels of education, (Forbes, New Evidence Documents That A College Degree Pays Off—By A Lot, Jan 15, 2020).

When it comes to average earnings, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients (no advanced degree beyond the BA), working full-time, was $24,900 higher than those of high school graduates. Median 2018 earnings by degree levels are listed in the chart below. (Forbes, Jan. 15, 2020)

High School Associate Bachelor Master Doctoral Professional
$40,500 $50,100 $65,400 $80,200 $102,300 $120,500


Among full-time workers, age 35 to 44, education level was strongly related to the percentage who were earning $100,000 or more annually as listed in the chart below. (Forbes, Jan. 15, 2020)

High School Associate Bachelor Advanced
5% 10% 28% 43%


Now the reader might say that, of course, the president of Glen Oaks Community College would always say the college is worth it! On the surface this would seem to be true, but what is the rest of the story? I grew up as a blue color son from a blue color family. Initially, I started college to play football, which, of course, was not the best reason. Once I was there, I discovered that I really enjoyed the total experience—especially the learning. In fact, I appreciated it so much that by the time I was nearing graduation, I knew I wanted to spend my life in higher education serving students and helping them realize their dreams for a fulfilling life. This meant that I would need to pursue graduate degrees and hold off on fully entering the workforce for a few additional years. Even then the salary was not as much as my tradesmen brothers were making and it took several years for that to change. Throughout this time, I was enjoying my work immensely in helping students garner the knowledge and skills that would serve them well for their careers.

Eventfully as I moved into administration, my income grew with my responsibilities, but I discovered that I enjoyed the opportunities to serve in greater ways including mentoring faculty and staff, building programs, and improving facilities as well as helping communities.

So what is the point of this personal story and how does it relate to the value of higher education? Simply, I have led a wonderful life beyond anything I could have ever imagined almost fifty years ago when I made the decision to go to college to play football. I received more than an education. I developed a service mindset along with a much broader view of the world—and these have resulted in a life of joy. Ask me about the value of a college education and while I would mention the additional lifetime income and employment security—that would not really matter if I had not been able to earn that income while doing rewarding and meaningful work. So I try each day to pay back for all my blessings and pay forward for the generations of students to come.