In choosing a career, it’s important to know your personal interests and talents, the job outlook for occupations matching your interests and talents, the education required, and the earnings you can expect-annually and over a lifetime. Resources at Spartanburg Community college’s career planning center can help you identify the occupations that are best suited to your personality and aptitudes. Several recent economic studies shed light on the outlook for national and local jobs and help answer the question: Is higher education worth it?

Occupational Demand, Educational Attainment, and Earnings

Labor market economists Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce have produced a comprehensive and detailed look at the future national job market and the relationship of employment demand to educational attainment. Their June 2010 study, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018,” included these two conclusions:

• By 2018, the U.S. economy will create 46.8 million openings—13.8 million brand-new jobs and 33 million “replacement jobs,” positions vacated by workers who have retired or permanently left their occupations. Nearly two-thirds of these 46.8 million jobs—some 63 percent—will require workers with at least some college education.

• By 2018, the postsecondary system will have produced 3 million fewer college graduates than demanded by the labor market.

It is well established that postsecondary education is associated with increased earnings and upward mobility. While 65 percent of workers with a high school diploma and no college experience have household incomes placing them in the middle class or above, completion of the associate’s degree raises this proportion to 80 percent. Earning the bachelor’s degree pushes the proportion in the middle class or above to 86 percent.

This analysis by Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl documents the considerable differences in annual earnings depending on the type of job one holds. Professionals such as doctors and lawyers, corporate managers, healthcare professionals such as nurses and therapists, and workers with skills and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM occupations) earn notably higher incomes than workers with less education. Within healthcare, contrast the $77,827 average earnings of those with professional training at the Associate’s degree and above with the $28,446 earned by healthcare support workers without postsecondary education. Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl note that the health care industry has increased employment by almost 650,000 jobs since the current recession began. But some jobs pay better than others, and education makes the difference.

What’s an Associate’s Degree Worth?

These same economists have calculated the median lifetime earnings of workers at each level of educational attainment. This allows us to put a dollar amount on the value of education at each step. The economic benefit of additional education and training over a lifetime can be substantial.

On average, people with a high school diploma will earn almost $9,000 per year more than those who have not completed high school. Over a lifetime, this translates to over $330,000 in additional earnings.

Having some postsecondary education, even without earning a degree, adds nearly one-quarter of a million dollars to lifetime earnings.

Getting an associate’s degree bumps this up another $180,000.

So an associate’s degree is worth over $420,000 in lifetime earnings above what you can expect to earn as a high school graduate.

Consider further investment in yourself. Take advantage of the resources at Spartanburg Community College and visit the Career Services and the Advising Centers to explore occupations. Invest in your education, advance your career, and enrich your life. You’re worth it!

Median Lifetime Earnings By Highest Educational Attainment Carnevale, Rose and Cheah, The College Payoff Less than High School $973,000 High School Diploma $1,304,000 Some College/No Degree $1,547,000 Associate’s Degree $1,727,000 Bachelor’s Degree $2,268,000 Master’s Degree $2,271,000 Doctoral Degree $3,252,000 Professional Degree $3,648,000