"Is College Worth It?" - Here Is The Fed's Answer In One Chart

The topic of whether college is worth it (costs vs benefits) has been discussed at length (here, here, and here most recently) but no lesser entity than the San Francisco Fed's PhDs have crunched the numbers and found that in the new normal, median starting wages of recent college graduates have not kept pace with median earnings for all workers. Furthermore, they are not optimistic - "because college grads face wages and hiring conditions that are especially responsive to business cycle conditions, this low earnings growth, together with shifts in the distribution of graduates’ labor market status, suggests continued weakness in the overall economy."

 

As SF Fed notes,

Median starting wages of recent college graduates have not kept pace with median earnings for all workers over the past six years. This type of gap in wage growth also appeared after the 2001 recession and closed only late in the subsequent labor market recovery. However the wage gap in the current recovery is substantially larger and has lasted longer than in the past. The larger gap represents slow growth in starting salaries for graduates, rather than a shift in types of jobs, and reflects continued weakness in the demand for labor overall.

 


Welcome to the part-time economy graduates...

Also shown are overall earnings and earnings for recent graduates working part-time. With few exceptions, wage growth has been limited in all occupational groups for recent graduates. Note that professional and related occupations and management, business, and finance, which are the two most popular categories for recent graduates, have seen particularly low wage growth.

 

 

 

Thus, while comparing occupational distributions across years indicates some stability, there is a clear pattern of low earnings growth for most categories. In fact, for almost all occupations and skill groups for which we have enough data to compare recent graduates to all others, we find that recent graduates experienced lower wage growth than other workers.

As SF Fed concludes...

The past several annual cohorts of graduates have experienced low earnings growth across almost all occupations compared with the overall population. While this post-recession pattern was also present after the 2001 recession, earnings growth following the most recent recession has been held down longer than in the past, which reflects the depth and severity of the recession.

 

Because college grads face wages and hiring conditions that are especially responsive to business cycle conditions, this low earnings growth, together with shifts in the distribution of graduates’ labor market status, suggests continued weakness in the overall economy.

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So is college worth it?