A College Education is a Risky Investment

College is a risky investment, but you may be able to get a lot more out of living as a college graduate than if you didn’t have a college degree.

The return on an investment in education for an individual is highly variable.  If you look at high school graduates, college graduates, is there a significant difference in income, on average?  The answer is yes.  Significant.  The problem, however, is that the variability around that is huge. 


So you’ll find lots and lots of college graduates for whom the college education did not lead to higher income later on.  I’ll be willing to bet you can find a lot of high school graduates who became carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and over their working lives, earn much more than someone who went to college, majored in liberal arts, and was a clerk or something, had some career that maybe did require a college education, but didn’t really produce much in the way of higher income.

So it’s a risky investment.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make that investment because the returns from a college education, the rewards from it, take many forms. It does not necessarily mean a higher income producing ability, but you may be able to get a lot more out of living as a college graduate than if you didn’t have a college degree.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less