The College Return on Investment (ROI)

A lot of the discussion around college is very focused on exactly how much money graduates make as soon as they shake the college president’s hand and walk across the stage to receive their diploma. That’s fine. You should be concerned about what job you get after college, but you also have to take the long-term view. You have to think of earning potential over your lifetime when you get that degree. In addition, these effects are additive because in recent years marriage patterns have shifted so that individuals with college degrees are more likely to marry, and when they do, they often marry partners who have college degrees. On average, here’s what you can expect to make in a lifetime based on your level of education:

·       High school diploma: $1.2 million

·       Bachelor’s degree: $2.1 million

·       Master’s degree: $2.5 million

·       Doctorate degree: $3.4 million

·       Professional degree (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, or Dentistry for example): $4.4 million[1]

Since the above is so abstract, I have re-created the lifetime earnings for the different educational levels in the chart below using boats earned as the metric instead of dollars. Each boat is worth $500,000 of earnings.


Those numbers might look big to you now, but you have to break it down by month and factor in bills and living expenses. What kind of life do you dream of? What do you imagine for your future? Money isn’t everything, but it is a tool to help create the life you want. Can you have the life you dream of without a college degree?

To learn more about how college work as a tool for your entire life, not just four years of fun, check out our book.

[1] Robert Longley, “Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education,” ThoughtCo., June 4, 2017,