For years Americans have been hearing about how much a college degree can increase their earnings. It seemed education was the way to financial security and success. However, new reports are showing that students are leaving college with a huge amount of debt and they are not that much better off than those that went from high-school straight into their careers.

The nonprofit College Board showed that over a lifetime college grads would earn $800,000 more than high-school graduates, while other estimates topped $1 million. But as tuition continues to skyrocket and students are returning to school, researchers are questioning the methodology behind the high monetary projections.

Researchers do believe that in a tough economy college grads fare better but how much better is the question. In 2002 the Census Bureau’s report titled “The Big Payoff” said average high-school grads earned $25,900 a year while average college graduates earned $45,400 based on 1999 data. So the report took the difference between the two figures and multiplied it by 40 years to equal $780,000.

The point of doing this wasn’t to show exactly what you’ll earn but rather that education is valuable. Mark Schneider president of the American Institute for Research calls this the “million-dollar misunderstanding.” Because these projected incomes don’t take into account unemployment as well as taxes and tax breaks.

The fact is that no one can predict exactly what you’ll earn. Everyone has different skills and talents and there’s a wide disparity even between majors that reflect on earnings. Some are higher paying and some are lower paying. The fact is projections are just a guess and you shouldn’t count on earning that  much per year.

Education will improve the quality of your life and it’s more likely to increase your earning but don’t count on the calculations that you’ve seen above average earnings for college grads. They are faulty and if you take on significant debt to get a degree then it may not be worth it too get a degree in the first place if you have a low paying job. So an education is a good idea but don’t go seriously into debt to earn one if you’re concerned about paying back the students loans.

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