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College degree = $650,000 more in earnings

March 9, 2012: 10:10 AM ET
college graduates

Enjoy the extra cash.

How would you like to earn an additional $650,000?

Then go to college.

Typical college grads earns about $650,000 more than their peers who just have a high school diploma over the course of a 40-year career, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census and college expense data.

A worker with a bachelor's degree earns about $1.4 million, on average, while a high school grad makes about $770,000.

Of course, it takes some cash to go to college so that has to be figured into the equation. After accounting for the time and cost of higher education, the gain is about $550,000 -- assuming one went to a four-year public university in one's home state.

Earnings, however, vary widely by major and field. Workers with at least a bachelor's degree who majored in engineering earn about $1.9 million during their careers, while those who studied education would earn on average about $1.1 million.

The payoff for a college education increased substantially during the 1980s and then either increased slightly since the early 1990s or plateaued, Pew says.

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About This Author
Tami Luhby
Tami Luhby
Senior writer, CNNMoney

Tami Luhby is a senior writer at CNNMoney and covers income inequality, state fiscal problems, unemployment, housing policy and other economic issues. Luhby previously covered personal finance for Newsday and banking for Crain's New York Business.

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