3 Reasons Why a College Degree Is Still Worth the Time and Money in 2021

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 Friday, September 3, 2021 03:00 PM

Let’s face facts: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everyone’s priorities. It’s made us question every decision in our lives, from the simplest (What type of mask should I wear?) to the most complex (What will my future look like?). Some adults even chose to hit the “pause” button on their plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree during the pandemic. But is such a decision wise?

To find out, we took a look at the latest data in an attempt to answer this key question: Is a college degree still worth the time and money in 2021? Here are our top three findings:

1. College-educated students still earn more money.

The decision to pursue a college degree involves far more than dollars and cents. But since that’s the area where most people focus, we’ll start there.

Here’s the full breakdown:

  • Pennsylvanians with a high school degree earn an average of $50,160 annually
  • Those who complete some college earn an average of $58,021 per year
  • Those who complete an associate degree earn an average of $58,847 per year
  • Those who complete a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $89,278 per year

The national averages actually rank higher, with bachelor’s degree participants earning an average of $92,608 per year.

What does that mean over a career? If you take the state averages and multiply them by 40 (based on a 40-year working career), a Pennsylvania student with a bachelor’s degree will earn nearly $3.6 million in their career, or $1.3 million more than a Pennsylvanian with only a high school diploma.

While these are averages, they do tell a tale: even during the pandemic, the earning potential for people with a bachelor’s degree is higher than that of people without one.

2. College-educated students are more likely to find work.

While getting a job right out of college is a bit tougher during the pandemic, people with a college degree have lower unemployment rates overall than those without one.

In fact, unemployment rates for people ages 25 and older with a bachelor’s degrees or higher were nearly 44% lower than for people with no college experience, according to January 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The breakdown:

  • 9.1% unemployment rate for people who did not complete high school
  • 7.1% unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college experience
  • 6.2% unemployment rate for people who completed some college or an associate degree
  • 4.0% unemployment rate for people who completed a bachelor’s degree or higher

3. College-educated people are well-prepared for the future of work.

Several years ago, researchers at the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce predicted that, by 2020, two out of every three jobs would require more than a high school diploma. Recently, a senior writer at the Chronicle for Higher Education reached out to one of the study’s authors and found that the prediction was low.

In fact, as early as 2018, 70% of jobs required more than a high school diploma, higher than what was expected by 2020 and a significant increase from the 59% of jobs that required more than a high school diploma just eight years earlier.

Yet preparing adult learners for the future of work requires more than achieving a post-graduate degree. It also means learning new skills. A McKinsey & Company report predicts that one-third of U.S. workers will need to change jobs or upgrade their skills significantly as lower-skilled jobs become automated. 

As COVID-19 has taught us, the future of work also includes embracing #WorkFromHome life. In a Gallup poll conducted in September 2020, 33% of U.S. workers say they’re now “always” working remotely, while another 25% say they’re “sometimes” working remotely.

As the pandemic has moved jobs—and education—from the classroom and boardroom to the laptop and smartphone, obtaining the skills to work remotely will differentiate job seekers from the competition. At the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies, we set up students for remote learning—and work—success by providing Zoom, G Suite and a variety of other tools to help people excel in the new way of conducting business.

Getting the most value from your educational experience

So, is a college degree still worth it in 2021? Ultimately, that decision is up to each individual student. But data clearly show that obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher brings plenty of rewards. In addition, continuing studies programs like ours offer networking opportunities, internships, mentorship, job shadowing and other value-added features to make an adult learner’s experience as robust as possible and prepare them for the future of work, no matter what might happen next.

Interested in learning more about the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies?

Set up an appointment with a Graduate Studies advisor.

Set up an appointment with a Continuing Studies advisor.

About the Muhlenberg College School of Continuing Studies
For more than 100 years, Muhlenberg College’s School of Continuing Studies has provided lifelong learners the opportunity to continue and enhance their education in ways that recognize their experience, maturity, motivation, life circumstances and capacity for independent scholarship. Through a rich variety of certificates and baccalaureate degrees, the School of Continuing Studies aligns a rigorous, high-quality and student-centric curriculum with the needs and trends of our regional economy.

About the Muhlenberg College School of Graduate Studies
The Muhlenberg College School of Graduate Studies offers a variety of post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees aimed at enhancing intellectual and career development through challenging coursework grounded in the liberal arts. With a mix of graduate certificate pathways and master’s degrees aligned with workforce and economic trends, the Muhlenberg College School of Graduate Studies enables students to prepare for professional work and career advancement, with a focus on leadership and innovation.