Education Pays 2023 Presents Data on the Benefits of Education for Individuals and Society

Individuals with higher levels of education earn more, pay more taxes, and are more likely than others to be employed and to have job benefits such as retirement plans and health insurance. Adults with more education are also more likely to be engaged citizens and less likely to rely on public assistance, according to Education Pays 2023, the latest report from the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education series.

Published since 2004, Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society documents differences in the earnings and employment patterns of U.S. adults with different levels of educational attainment. The report also establishes a correlation between education and health outcomes and community involvement. In addition to reporting median earnings by education level, this year’s report also documents variation in earnings by different characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, college major, state, and institutional sector. Education Pays rounds out the Trends in Higher Education series that includes Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid. These reports provide a foundation for evaluating public policies aimed at increasing educational opportunities.

Key findings from the report:

Participation and Success in Higher Education

  • Gaps in enrollment rates persist across demographic groups. In 2000, 59% of Black and 48% of Hispanic individuals enrolled in college within one year of high school graduation, compared with 67% of White and 82% of Asian students. In 2020, enrollment rates were 57%, 62%, 68%, and 82% for Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian students, respectively. (Figure 1.1A)
  • Since 1989, the college enrollment rate of recent female high school graduates has consistently exceeded that of recent male high school graduates. (Figure 1.2A)
  • Within each PSAT/NMSQT® quartile, college enrollment rates are higher for those from lower-challenge (greater educational opportunity) neighborhoods than those from higher-challenge (lower educational opportunity) neighborhoods. (Figure 1.3)
  • While overall educational attainment has increased over time, college persistence and attainment patterns differ considerably across demographic groups. Between 1981 and 2021, the share of adults age 25 to 29 who held a bachelor’s degree more than doubled for Black individuals (from 12% to 28%) and almost tripled for Hispanic individuals (from 8% to 23%). The share with a bachelor’s degree increased from 25% to 45% for White individuals. (Figure 1.6A)
  • In 2019, the percentage of adults age 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree ranged from 22% in West Virginia and Mississippi to 43% in Colorado, 45% in Massachusetts, and 60% in the District of Columbia. (Figure 1.7)

Earnings and Other Economic Benefits

  • In 2021, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients age 25 and older with no advanced degree working full time were $29,000 higher than those of high school graduates ($73,300 vs. $44,300). Bachelor’s degree recipients paid an estimated $7,800 more in taxes and took home $21,200 more in after-tax income than high school graduates. (Figure 2.1)
  • Although obtaining a college degree can mean forgone wages during a time when a student is also paying tuition, by age 34 the average bachelor’s degree recipient will have recouped those costs. Higher educational attainment is an investment that pays dividends over the course of a lifetime—even for students who accumulate some debt to obtain a degree. (Figure 2.2A)
  • In 2021, among adults between the ages of 25 and 64, 67% of high school graduates, 71% of those with some college but no degree, 76% of those with an associate degree, and 83% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree were employed. (Figure 2.12)
  • The unemployment rate for individuals age 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree has consistently been about half of the unemployment rate for high school graduates. (Figure 2.13A)
  • In 2021, the unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree was 3.3%, compared with 8.3% for high school graduates in the same age group. (Figure 2.13B)

Variation in Earnings

  • The percentage of full-time year-round workers age 35 to 44 earning $100,000 or more in 2021 ranged from 4% of those without a high school diploma and 7% of high school graduates to 35% of those whose highest attainment was a bachelor’s degree and 49% of advanced degree holders. Among advanced degree holders, 24% earned $150,000 or more; this share was 14% among bachelor’s degree holders. (Figure 2.3)
  • In 2018 and 2019, median earnings for early career bachelor’s degree recipients ranged from $34,000 a year for performing arts majors to $70,000 for computer science majors. For mid-career employees, median earnings ranged from $43,700 for early childhood education majors to $100,000 for computer science majors. (Figure 2.9)
  • From 2016 to 2020, median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients with no advanced degree working full time were $67,400 in the United States and ranged from $51,300 in Mississippi to $81,200 in New Jersey. (Figure 2.11)

Civic Engagement and Health

  • Voting rates are higher among individuals with higher levels of education. In the 2020 presidential election, 77% of 25- to 44-year-old U.S. citizens with at least a bachelor’s degree voted, compared with 46% of high school graduates in the same age group. (Figure 2.18A)
  • Among adults age 25 and older, 19% of those with a high school diploma volunteered in 2019, compared with 40% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 51% of those with an advanced degree. (Figure 2.19A)
  • In 2020, 54% of 25- to 34-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree and 29% of high school graduates reported exercising vigorously at least once a week. (Figure 2.21)