Competitive Advantage

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Competitive Advantage

Delivering Tips, Insights and Resources for Success

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Is a college degree “worth it”?


We’ve all heard the phrases:

  • “It’s not worth it to get a degree.”
  • “A degree is just a piece of paper.”
  • “You can make just as much money without a degree as you can with one.”
  • “Today, skills and experience are more important than degrees.”

People who say these things are wondering if the time, money, and energy that you spend to earn a degree are going to result in even more benefits in the future. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but are these blanket statements backed up with FACTS? Let’s look at some data to discover if a degree is still “worth it” in today’s workforce.

How Bill Gates & Steve Jobs Come In…

First of all, it’s a no-brainer that a degree (associate, bachelor’s, or beyond) DOES NOT guarantee financial or personal success. On the flip side, people without degrees are not doomed to career failure. When talking about the degree conversation, it seems like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs often come up:

It’s likely that you know people who DO have degrees who just can’t seem to “get ahead” in their lives. Clearly, having a degree is not a magic option that grants success.

The QUANTITATIVE Facts About Degrees

Everyone approaches this question from a different experience. Where are you at in your college journey? Maybe you…

  • Never went to college at all
  • Started college but never finished with a degree
  • Completed a degree but can’t seem to “get ahead” in life
  • Graduated from college and all your dreams are coming true!
  • Our situations can affect our opinions about degrees, so let’s look at some of the facts.

Georgetown University recently did a study that showcases the current stats about education. Here are some findings:

  • Over their lifetime, bachelor’s degree holders earn 75% more than those with just high school diplomas
  • People with bachelor’s degrees earn $2.8 million compared to $1.6 million for high school graduates (lifetime median earnings)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows this data another way. On average, having a bachelor’s degree means that people earn $525 MORE per week (or over $2,000 per month) than those with a high school diploma.

The unemployment statistics are also better for those with college degrees. In 2021, the unemployment rate for people with high school diplomas was 6.2%, but for those with bachelor’s degrees it was only 3.5%.

Of course, these numbers vary according to factors like state (location), undergraduate major, and industry. The bottom line is that people with degrees statistically do better on paper than those without degrees.

The QUALITATIVE Value of a Degree

Those numbers are significant but it’s also important to look at what a college degree means to people. It’s harder to find studies and stats to measure these things but consider these NON-monetary benefits as well:

  1. Accomplishment: The Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program hears from students regularly through surveys and other feedback. A frequent theme from college graduates is a sense of accomplishment, an excitement over achievement. Graduating from college is a way to prove to yourself and others that you can finish something hard. 

    Consider a sports analogy: We are very impressed if someone runs 25 miles, but that runner can’t say “I ran a marathon” until they have completed 26.2 miles. To humans, finish lines mean something. Graduating from college is similar crossing the finish line at a big race: we get to join the millions of our comrades who have also accomplished the same thing!We got this comment recently from a recent graduate: “I too needed 2 more classes to graduate… I just finished what I started so many years ago. It really gives you a sense of accomplishment.” (Gladys Artis)

  2. Setting an example: Because FINISHING something is a recognized accomplishment, those who finish inspire and encourage others. Having a degree gives people the relational authority to encourage other people to head for big goals. 

    We recently featured Paul Stuart on the blog… he hadn’t attended college for 25 years but went back to finish his degree. He is one of the many parents who valued this experience because he felt better about expecting his kids to go to college when he could show them that he valued it enough to return too.

  3. Confidence: You know it in your heart: having a degree makes people more confident. One way to prove this confidence comes from the opposite situation: even very successful people who DON’T have degrees often express regret: “I never finished my degree but…” Even the fact that we speak in these terms shows that people may feel “less than” others without a degree. 

    Our C2C graduates often reference the confidence that their education and their degree gives them. When we know that we’ve worked hard to accomplish something, it helps us feel like we have achieved a status that can give us value. Education does NOT determine the worth of a person (and we shouldn’t judge anyone by their educational attainment), but it is human nature to feel more pride and confidence in ourselves when we have worked hard to graduate.

It can be especially “worth it” to FINISH a degree if you already have college credits. It could make a big difference in your life to finish up any remaining credits so that you can graduate with a degree that might actually make a difference. Even if you have a lot of classes behind you, this training rarely “means anything” until you can check the box that says “I have a college degree.”

In summary: What is the value of a degree?

A degree does not GUARANTEE financial or personal success

  • You cannot succeed at a job JUST BY having a degree.
  • Expensive degree programs could cost more in debt than they would recoup in expected earnings, so it’s important to evaluate the cost of your degree program compared to potential earnings.
  • According to some studies, certain skills are more important to employers than degrees, so it’s important to work on these skills along with academics.
  • Trade schools and other certifications can also be very valuable training assets.

However, a degree DOES provide important benefits:

  • It opens doors that are “locked” without the “key” of a degree. In the vast job market, employers have to devise ways to streamline their hiring. Requiring a degree is one way to ensure that they are choosing from candidates who have completed a difficult accomplishment
  • It represents hard work, the study of a recognized body of knowledge, and the application of skills like communication, team work, time management, etc.
  • It tends to give a sense of accomplishment, the power of setting a positive example, and the confidence that comes with achievement.
  • It results in higher wages and more job opportunities, on average.

Whatever your opinion about degrees, it’s important to hear what Bill Gates thinks about college. He wrote this: “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success.”

Is it time to make your college credits “worth it”?

The evidence shows that it is worth it to get a college degree. If you have college credits “just sitting there” consider reenrolling in college. Achieving a degree could make a tangible difference in your future.

Many or most of your past college credits could still be applied toward a degree, even if it’s been decades since you last took classes. These past credits could be applied to a degree and help you graduate much more quickly.

Does returning to college seem overwhelming? There’s help especially for adults who want to go back to finish degrees. In Mississippi, the Complete 2 Compete (C2C) program provides options for returning adults, including C2C coaches who help with a lot of the details and a renewable $1,000 grant to help pay for college costs. Learn more and complete the brief survey application to see if C2C could help you complete college more quickly and easily.


C2C is a state program that helps Mississippi adults who previously attended college earn a degree and create a brighter future.