Study finds college grads earn significantly higher income

I have written before about how closing the skills gap is a more effective way to increase people’s income.  This is because focusing on helping people attain particular skills makes them more employable in higher-paying jobs. This is largely showcased by research showing college graduates usually earn compared to people with no college degrees.

A recent study on the state of Georgia has found results further proving this fact.

The study — “What you make depends on where you live: College Earnings Across States and Metropolitan Areas” — evaluates the “college earnings premium” by geographic area. Along with Washington, D.C., and New York, Georgia boasts one of the nation’s highest returns on a bachelor’s degree.

Workers in Georgia with a four-year degree earn 66% more on average than those with associate’s degrees and 101% more than those with only a high school diploma. Narrowing the focus to the state’s largest metropolitan statistical area — Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell —  workers with bachelor’s degrees earn 68.4% more than those with associate degrees ($98,402 vs. $58,442) and 108.2% more than those with high school diplomas.

This is of course not to say going to college is the only path to success. But college degrees significantly expand job opportunities for people.

“I don’t want to say everyone should go to college but the returns to higher education are pretty considerable in Georgia,” says Iowa State University economist and study author John Winters, who earned his doctorate from Georgia State University. “One takeaway from the study is that job market opportunities for those without a lot of education are not very robust in Georgia.”

Winters examined earning levels in all 50 states and Washington and in more than 100 metropolitan areas, finding bachelor’s degree holders overall make 55% more than workers with associate’s degrees and 85% more than workers with high school diplomas.

Even though college degree premium varies with location, the results are similar: bachelor’s degree holders earn more than other individuals with lower levels of education.

While salary data have long proven the value of a bachelor’s degree the study identified a surprising degree of variation in the college premium across the country, as well as between and within states. Overall, the value of a college degree is greater in big cities and urbanized areas, and smallest in rural America, which means high school students ought to consider not only what they want to be when they grow up but where they want to live.


For example, the college boost is not as large in the second largest metropolitan statistical areas in Georgia — Augusta-Richmond County —  as in metro Atlanta. In the Augusta area, workers with bachelor’s degrees earn 37.8% more than those with associate’s degrees ($73,407 vs. $53,274) and 50.3 % more than those with high school diplomas.


In every state, bachelor’s degree holders strongly out-earn workers with associate’s degrees, with a more than 25% earnings advantage in all but three states: North Dakota, Alaska, and Vermont.

An NBER found that increasing educational attainments for adults without a college degree increases their average earnings. This should not be surprising. As already mentioned, a college education makes individuals more employable by instilling in them skills that high-paying jobs require. Therefore any policy that aims to improve people’s income through employment should include efforts that make it easier for them to learn skills that are required in high-paying professions.