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Is a college degree worth it? Here's how salaries stack up at different education levels

A college degree means a higher salary, but it also often means student loan debt.

MINNEAPOLIS — The job market has certainly changed over the past two years during COVID. Jessica Harstad, the HR director for Minneapolis-based job placement agency Platinum Staffing said nowadays, employers are more willing to hire people from less "cookie-cutter" backgrounds.

"I think when COVID hit, it kind of shattered where everyone thought everything was supposed to be," Harstad said. "What we have found as a company is that our clients are looking for people that are ready to come back to work."

She said companies are more willing to teach skills on the job, as long as someone shows a willingness to learn and a good work ethic.

"I think [employers] are getting more creative in how they actually are looking to open the door to bring in new, solid candidates," she said.

So what does that mean for people with or without a four-year degree?

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average student loan debt for a four-year Bachelor's degree is $28,000. A report from the same research team found 52% of students who had taken on student loan debt did not feel it was worth it.

But it's important to consider: people with a college degree or even some college experience still get paid more on average, by a relatively large margin. 

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According to the most recent data (2020) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with four-year degrees take home $1,305 as a median weekly income, compared to $938 weekly for those with an associate degree, and $781 with a high school diploma.

Credit: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
Earnings by educational attainment

 When looking strictly at the top ten jobs that are projected to have the most openings over the next decade at each education level, the same is true: median salaries for jobs that require a bachelor's degree often more than double the salaries of those requiring a high school diploma or equivalent.

Topping the list under the category of high school degree or equivalent, with over half a million job openings projected between 2019-2029, is home health aide, with a median income of $25,280.

At the top of the list for jobs requiring a four-year degree, with 204,400 jobs projected, is general or operations managers, with a median income of $100,780.

Of course, for college graduates, median income and average student loan debt depends on your major. The college scorecard can help students determine what is the best choice.

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