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The ROI of a Bachelor’s Degree

By Shayna Joubert
January 18, 2018

Choosing to complete a bachelor’s degree is not an easy decision. Considering the large personal investment of time and money that is required, you may wonder about the ROI of a bachelor’s degree in today’s job market.

The answer—at least from an economic perspective—is that pursuing a college education remains a worthwhile investment. In 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York analyzed the economic returns of higher education to discover if the benefits of a bachelor’s degree still outweigh the cost of attendance. They found that bachelor’s degrees have held a steady rate of return for over a decade at around 15 percent—a higher rate than your average investment in the stock market, government bonds, or real estate.


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But the ROI of a bachelor’s degree stretches beyond financial returns. Degree holders also have a significant advantage in the job market, increased access to job opportunities, improved self-esteem, and higher levels of career satisfaction.

Whether you are looking to advance your existing career, re-enter the workforce, or build on previous coursework, earning a bachelor’s degree can help you achieve your goals. Here is a breakdown of six major benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree to help you feel more confident in your decision.

1. Higher Wages

By earning a bachelor’s degree, you will earn significantly more money in your lifetime. On average, college graduates earn one million dollars more than high school graduates over the course of their careers. And while differences in base salary are modest initially, the gap between degree and non-degree holders widens over time.

Ten years after graduation, those with a bachelor’s degree earn yearly raises averaging $3,778 versus $369 for non-graduates. According to Pew Research Center, the median yearly income gap between high school and college graduates now sits at $17,500.

2. Increased Marketability

Having a bachelor’s degree will keep you in demand as the need for skilled, college-educated workers continues to rise. Over 80 percent of jobs in four of the fastest-growing occupations—healthcare, STEM, education, and government services—demand postsecondary education. Thus, it’s estimated that, by 2020, there will be 13 million available jobs requiring bachelor’s degrees. Although 36 percent of adults ages 25 to 36 currently hold a college degree, the United States will still fall short of meeting employer demand by five million qualified workers by 2020.

On your path to earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll gain skills that will give you a competitive advantage in the job market. Today’s employers are most interested in applicants with exceptional communication, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. In college, you’ll have access to rigorous coursework and experiential learning opportunities that will arm you with these skills to make you more attractive to employers.

3. Increased Access to Job Opportunities

Having a bachelor’s degree opens up rewarding opportunities that might have otherwise been inaccessible. College graduates see 57 percent more job opportunities than non-graduates, and it is estimated that, by 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require a postsecondary education. A degree enables you to qualify for these additional opportunities and offers you more flexibility in where you choose to work.

Not only are there more jobs available to degree holders than high school graduates, but the existing jobs are also more accessible. According to research by Burning Glass Technologies, two million new jobs posted online per quarter require a bachelor’s degree or higher. For job seekers, these online job postings are a primary tool for finding and applying to available roles. While more than 80 percent of all job openings for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are advertised online, only 50 percent of jobs requiring a high school diploma are posted online, making it harder for these workers to connect with prospective employers.

Pursuing a college education also expands your access to opportunities by connecting you to a lifelong network of colleagues, advisors, professors, and mentors. Over the course of your career, this network can open doors and connect you to industry leaders with whom you can share ideas and explore new ventures.

4. Economic Stability

Of the 11.6 million jobs created since 2010, over 8.4 million jobs—95 percent—have gone to bachelor’s degree holders. Meanwhile, jobs for high school graduates have only grown by 80,000. It makes sense, then, that bachelor’s degree holders have a significantly lower rate of unemployment than high school graduates. In 2014, the unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees was just below four percent, while over 12 percent of high school graduates in that age range remained unemployed.

Consequently, individuals without a degree are three times more likely to be living in poverty. According to Pew Research Center, only six percent of bachelor’s degree holders live below the poverty line, while an alarming 22 percent of people without a college degree live in poverty. Earning a bachelor’s degree will help afford you economic stability and security for the future.

5. Higher Job Satisfaction

Research shows that having a bachelor’s degree leads to greater long-term job satisfaction. The differences between degree and non-degree holders are stark:

  • Eighty-six percent of college graduates consider their job a career or a stepping stone to their career, while only 57 percent of high school graduates say the same.
  • The majority of bachelor’s degree holders—60 percent—say they are highly satisfied and their job is more than just a paycheck. Only 38 percent of degree holders report the same level of satisfaction.
  • Forty-two percent of high school graduates say their job is “just to get them by,” compared to 14 percent of bachelor’s degree holders.

Bachelor’s degree holders also enjoy more on-the-job perks that contribute to a sense of career satisfaction. In 2015, 52 percent of full-time workers with a degree were offered retirement benefits, compared to only 43 percent of individuals without a degree.

6. Improved Self-Esteem

Earning a degree is empowering; it boosts confidence and provides a sense of achievement. The pursuit of higher education also equips you to master complex challenges and overcome adversity, contributing to increased happiness and reduced stress. This may be why bachelor’s degree holders report higher levels of self-esteem than high school graduates.

College graduates are also more likely to be involved in their communities. Compared to non-degree holders, they are more likely to vote, volunteer, donate to charities, join community organizations, and participate in educational activities with their children. As more active citizens, bachelor’s degree holders contribute to a stronger, more engaged community to provide opportunities for future generations.

The ROI of a Bachelor’s Degree

In today’s market, the cost of not having a college degree is rising, as non-graduates face a lack of job options and increased economic instability. While earning a bachelor’s degree is a big commitment, the rewards are plentiful and within your reach. A brighter economic future, more career possibilities, and a greater sense of personal fulfillment are all possible with the acquisition of a bachelor’s degree.


Curious about the next steps toward earning your degree and advancing your career? Explore Northeastern’s flexible bachelor’s degree completion programs. 


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About Shayna Joubert
Shayna Joubert is the senior content marketing manager for Northeastern University.