The Value of Higher Education for Career Growth

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

In the not-so-distant past, college was seen as an unassailable path to landing a good job – a golden ticket to higher salaries, future promotions, and a middle- to upper-class lifestyle. However, an increasing number of Americans are calling into question the value of higher education at all levels. Is it worth the cost? Does it guarantee job offers? Will career growth stall without it?


There isn’t one surefire way to climb the career ladder successfully, and serious issues including stagnant wages, high costs, and student loan debt are fueling the national reckoning with college. But the evidence is clear: Higher education and continuing education still provide an excellent return on investment for most students.

Why Earn a College Degree?

For both professionals contemplating a return to the classroom and students fresh out of high school, there are significant benefits to earning a degree.


Greater Lifetime Earnings

College graduates at all levels earn significantly more money over the course of their careers than non-degree holders.


According to a 2021 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), adults with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $2.8 million during their careers, while those with a high school diploma earn an average of only $1.6 million. In addition, the report showed that median lifetime earnings tend to rise with every level of education attained:

  • Less than high school: $1.2 million
  • High school diploma: $1.6 million
  • Some college, but no degree: $1.9 million
  • Associate degree: $2 million
  • Bachelor’s degree: $2.8 million
  • Master’s degree: $3.2 million
  • Doctoral degree: $4 million
  • Professional degree: $4.7 million

The field chosen, regional pay differences, race, gender, and other factors can affect actual earnings. But by and large, completing higher levels of education is a good strategy for boosting lifetime earnings.


A female wearing a yellow top in an office.

More Job Opportunities

Research has found that college graduates receive 57 percent more job opportunities throughout their lifetimes – and the jobs they land tend to be less vulnerable to job cuts that typically occur during recessions.


Attending college also provides opportunities to build and maximize professional networks, which can help graduates get started or advance in their careers.


Generational Economic Gains

The benefits of attending college are far from individual – they’re multigenerational. According to studies by the National Center for Educational Statistics, children of college graduates are much more likely to earn college degrees. It’s a legacy of success that graduates can pass on to future generations.


Better Long-Term Benefits

In addition to salary, more educated citizens have greater access to health care and retirement plans, according to an annual report by the College Board. College graduates are also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, be active and engaged citizens, and be able to provide better opportunities for their children.


Why Pursue Continuing Education?

If you’ve already attained your degree, returning to the classroom for personal and professional development can yield big dividends, too. The path to career growth leads directly through professional certifications, graduate certificates, leadership courses, and more.


Gain an Edge as a Job Candidate

Holding a degree isn’t all that unusual – in fact, it’s a minimum qualification for most professional jobs. To stand out in a crowded field of job candidates, it can help to have additional training and certifications on your resume. It shows employers you have skills that rise above the competition and can help you land the most desirable job opportunities.


Find a More Satisfying Career

 If your current job leaves you feeling unfulfilled, unappreciated, and unhappy, continuing education can open new career paths. Gone are the days of selecting a career and sticking with the same company for 30 years. Today, it’s possible to have two or even three careers over the course of your lifetime – in completely different fields – and continuing education can help you attain the qualifications to make it happen.


A person holding their graduation cap.

Increase Your Earning Potential

Attaining more skills makes you inherently more valuable to employers and can help you climb the career ladder quicker:


  • Increase your productivity by learning new ways to complete tasks.
  • Take on new tasks you weren’t previously qualified for.
  • Learn skills your colleagues don’t have.


When it comes time to ask for a raise or qualify for a promotion, holding a toolbelt with the most tools can lead to success. Employers see the value in well-rounded employees who can take on multiple duties and increase the bottom line.


Are you self-employed? Gaining additional skills can allow you to bring tasks in house that you previously outsourced and reallocate the savings to your bottom line or other areas of need.


Stay Relevant in the Workforce

Conventional wisdom tells us that a rolling stone gathers no moss, and nowhere is this more apropos than the workplace. Learning doesn’t stop once you’ve earned a degree. To stay relevant in a rapidly changing business world, it’s necessary to continually invest in new skills. Working hard isn’t enough anymore. You can retain your value to employers and boost your earning potential by ensuring you’re equipped to help solve new business challenges and take advantage of emerging business opportunities.


Start Your Journey With USF

If you decide that earning a degree or continuing your education is smart move for your career, USF can help! We offer more than 245 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degree programs designed for a wide variety of students – from traditional learners to working professionals to veterans.


For degree-holders seeking to earn certifications or learn new skills, we offer highly regarded training programs in the fields of business, human resources, leadership, legal, process improvement, project management, and technology. Contact us to learn more about how you can foster career growth with training from USF.