Why Going to College is the Best Investment Decision of Your Life
Spoiler alert: going to college is still the best way to get a good job, and the investment you make to get your degree will more than pay for itself anywhere you go. Surprisingly, a lot of people are still turning out articles decrying why college isn’t worth the cost, or that student debt loads are too high to merit the investment. We looked into the most recent numbers, and created an easy viz to put this debate to rest.
Our numbers come from Student Loan Hero, a website centered around helping people pay for higher education. The viz easily lays out a salary bracket for each state in the country. The low number represents the average salary for someone with a high school diploma, and the higher number represents salaries for people with college degrees. The difference between these two numbers is what we call the return on investment (ROI) you would get by going to college.
The most obvious fact about our graph is that college graduates make more money than those with only a high school education everywhere in the country. The question isn’t whether there is an ROI; the only question is how big the ROI is. Consider the smallest ROI for getting a college degree: $11,543 in Vermont. That means you would make $11,000 more than the non-college graduate every single year (all things being equal). At the other extreme, Washington DC carries a pay difference of $32,511. These numbers suggest that going to college is a no-brainer.
To be fair, the situation is a bit more complicated. It costs a lot of money to go to college, and our graph only takes into account the pay difference once you actually graduate (and almost half of the people going to college never make it out). Another way to slice the data would be to look at the cost of attending college in each state, then figure out how long it would take to break even on your college investment. When you look at going to college in this way, there’s only one place where it would take longer than 10 years to pay for the entire thing: Vermont, at 11.5 years. In fact, it takes much shorter everywhere else, usually between 3 to 5 years. It takes only 1.65 years for college to pay for itself in Wyoming, which earns the highest marks in an analysis by MarketWatch.
Top 10 States with the Biggest Bang for your College Buck
We’ve included the years until the degree pays for itself, and the salary difference you can expect compared to people with only a high school diploma.
1. Wyoming - 1.65 years and $13,583
2. New Mexico - 2.00 years and $17,510
3. Arkansas - 2.27 years and $18,334
4. Texas - 2.33 years and $24,469
5. Georgia - 2.44 years and $23,639
6. Arizona - 2.47 years and $21,261
7. California - 2.48 years and $28,047
8. Alabama - 2.55 years and $20,302
9. Alaska - 2.56 years and $18,533
10. Montana - 2.61 years and $13,097
Going to college is a significant investment, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. One strategy to maximize your investment would be to go to school where it costs relatively little, and then move to a location where college graduates earn the highest salaries. This would minimize the upfront cost while generating the greatest ROI possible. Perhaps going to school isn’t a golden ticket to a successful life, and perhaps the ROI has decreased from where it once was. That doesn’t change the obvious numbers, however, proving that getting a degree is a smart investment.
Data: Table 1.1