Today Fusion launches a project which is very close to my heart – an interactive, graphical charting tool which allows you to see, at a glance, whether it's worth taking the plunge and going to college (or, getting a Master’s, or a PhD, or law degree, or MBA).
The idea is that there are two main components to the cost of going to college. One is the absolute cost: tuition, fees, things like that. And then there's the opportunity cost: all the money you could otherwise be making, if you weren't going to college. In our charts, if you look at where two lines cross, that gives you an indication of how long it will take for college to pay for itself. For a bachelor's degree, the line crosses that of a high school graduate after about 10 years.
The New York Fed has another way of looking at this: their chart showing Years to Recoup the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree shows a line which has been pretty stable, at about 10 years, for the past 25 years or so.
This chart basically shows that a college education will, on average, pay for itself in 10 years.
But that's not always the case. If you spend five or six years getting your degree, rather than four years, it will take much longer to recoup the cost of the degree, since those extra years would otherwise have been spent earning good money.
And for 25% of college graduates, college really does look like a waste of time and money: the bottom quartile of college grads earns no more than the median high school graduate.
Finally, it’s worth looking at something which isn't covered in Fusion's dataset: what are the chances that you won't be able to find a job at all, or won't find a job which requires a college degree?
The answer is that you're significantly more likely to find a job if you have a degree than if you don't. And while that job might not require a degree, it's still likely to be better than the job you would have gotten if you hadn't got a degree at all.