EMU graduates attend their commencement ceremony in May.

A fantastic investment: Bachelor’s degree adds $30K to salary, on average

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month, a time when many in the higher education community provide crucial information to students and families about access to federal, state and institutional aid. To cap off the month, we spoke with Jim Leaman, director of the Business and Leadership Program at EMU, about the financial value and affordability of a college degree.

It’s probably no surprise that the time and money spent on a college degree is one of the best investments you can make in your lifetime. But, seeing the raw numbers — just how much more money a college graduate earns versus someone with only a high school diploma — can be eye-opening.

On average, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn $580 more per week, or $2,500 more per month, than those with a high school diploma. That’s according to Jim Leaman, director of the Business and Leadership Program at EMU, who crunched the numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Leaman delivered a presentation on his findings at EMU’s Admitted Student Day earlier this month.

A slide from Leaman’s presentation. Note the jump in earnings from someone with an associate’s degree to someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Paying it back ‘pretty easy’

The average total debt for EMU graduates who have taken out loans is $35,000. For those graduates, their increased earnings — $30,000 more per year than high school graduates — make it “pretty easy to service that debt load,” Leaman said.

“That $35,000 debt feels like a lot to a 22-year-old coming out of college who’s just getting started in their career; it feels enormous,” he said. “But, I’d much rather be in that position than not having gone to college, from a financial standpoint.”

EMU’s average student loan debt among all borrowers ($35,000)
is slightly lower than the national average ($38,290),

National average numbers taken from a recent CNN report.

With the current 5.5% interest rate on subsidized loans, the cost of repaying $35,000 in student loan debt over 20 years equates to a $240 payment each month, Leaman said. 

“If you’re making $2,500 more per month because you have a bachelor’s degree, you’re very willing to have a $240-per-month expenditure on your debt,” he said. “You very easily make that trade-off.”        

And, that’s just for graduates who carry on debt. Roughly 28% of students leave EMU without borrowing money, he added.

Financial aid and scholarships keep the cost of a college education affordable for students at EMU. You can contribute to these scholarships by participating in our
upcoming LovEMU Giving Day on Wednesday, April 10

Earning a four-year degree is still relatively rare. Only 33% of the U.S. labor force has at least a bachelor’s degree. And, it’s still something employers value. According to 2022 BLS statistics, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree was 2.2%, compared to a 4% rate for those with a high school diploma. 

More than money

Of course, the benefits of a college education extend past a salary. 

Students at EMU explore big questions of faith and meaning, develop social skills, discover their passions, gain confidence and mature in just about every way imaginable. Graduates also are more likely to live longer.

Life expectancy in the U.S. dipped after 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with that drop-off hitting non-college graduates hardest.

A Princeton University study found that 25-year-old Americans who graduated college have about 58 years of life remaining (for a life expectancy of 83 years). Their peers who lack a college degree have about 50 years of life left after 25 (a life expectancy of 75 years).

Likely culprits behind this mortality gap include: differential access to health care, a greater likelihood of unhealthy behaviors among people without college degrees, a difference in the safety of living environments, and more “deaths of despair” involving suicide, drug overdoses and alcoholism, Forbes reports.

So, what’s not to love about investing in a college degree? In addition to gaining all the skills needed to become contributing members of society, college graduates earn significantly more, live nearly a decade longer, and — at least for EMU grads — are well-positioned to pay off their debt.

“The moral of the story,” said Leaman, “is that education is a fantastic investment.”

Jim Leaman delivers a presentation to prospective students at EMU’s Admitted Student Day on Feb. 3. (Photo courtesy of EMU Digital Media Ambassadors)

Join the Discussion on “A fantastic investment: Bachelor’s degree adds $30K to salary, on average

  1. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process for the 2024-25 year has been more challenging and time-consuming than expected due to changes and unforeseen delays. In recognition of these difficulties, EMU has created a dedicated FAFSA FAQ website to help you navigate these complexities.

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