College pays — but some degrees are worth more

A college degree usually leads to higher income, but the payoff varies by degree and discipline, concludes The Economic Benefit of Postsecondary Degrees, an analysis by  Katie Zaback and Andy Carlson of State Higher Education Executive Officers and Matt Crellin of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Bachelor’s degree graduates have a median income of $50,360 compared to a median of $38,607 for associate degree graduates and $29,423 for people with only a high school diploma, the report finds.  However median earnings and the wage premium — the difference between a college graduate’s pay and what a high school graduate would earn in the same field — vary significantly.

The average wage premium for an associate degree is 31.2 percent, but that ranges from 23.3 percent in education (probably early childhood education) to 73.9 percent in health fields. Median income ranges from $23,175 for an education-related associate degree to $45,343 for STEM degrees.

Median pay also varies considerably for workers with a bachelor’s degree. As with associate degrees, the highest wage premium is in health care: The 123.4 percent wage premium leads to a median income of $56,427.