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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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