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The ROI of Higher Education: Why a Graduate Degree is Worth It

We’ve all seen the headlines: countless studies addressing the ballooning cost of college and the American student loan crisis. Recently, the cost of higher education and student debt received even more attention with the unveiling of President Biden’s student debt relief plan. A lot of these conversations center around undergraduate education; but the numbers look just as alarming for graduate school: graduate students comprise only 25% of those with student loans—but they owe around 50% of all student debt.

With all of this, it’s easy to think both postsecondary education (both undergraduate and graduate) isn’t worth it anymore—that the cost is too high and the return on investment is too low. But, despite the unsettling statistics and alarmism about the future of higher education, college is still overwhelmingly worth it. 

Previously, we’ve covered why the ROI of an undergraduate degree justifies the investment. Read on in this article, to discover why the ROI of a graduate degree definitely pays off.

You make more money with a graduate degree.

It’s a familiar claim that almost everyone has heard: getting a college degree gets you a higher-paying job. This isn’t just a cliché—the data and research consistently support and reinforce this claim. 

For example, in their 2021 survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “workers who attained less than a high school diploma had the lowest median weekly earnings and highest unemployment rate” while “workers with graduate degrees (master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees) had the highest earnings and lowest unemployment rates.” Higher education in general increases your earning potential—but graduate education increases your earning potential by the highest rate.

This fact bears out with startlingly large percentages in other studies. The Economic Policy Institute found bachelor’s degree earners made an average of $36.84 in 2021 while those with an advanced degree earned an average of $49.48. Thus, in 2021, receiving a graduate degree could result in a 25% increase in average wages from just an undergraduate. Over time, this difference becomes even more dramatic.

According to the Education Data Initiative, because of this substantial salary increase, the 20-year ROI for master’s and doctoral degrees is 90.1% and 84% respectively and the lifetime ROIs is 433.5% and 416.3% respectively—almost tripling the ROI of an undergraduate degree. As a result, David Autor, an economist at MIT, argues that not going to college will cost you:  “the true cost of a college degree is about negative $500,000. That’s right: Over the long run, college is cheaper than free. Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.” 

Obviously, increased earning potential, over time, more than makes up for the initial upfront cost of a graduate education. Getting an advanced degree is an investment that pays off dividends for the rest of your life.

The world needs more graduate degree-educated, highly skilled workers.

The massive wage gaps between college graduates and non-college graduates demonstrates the vital importance of these educated workers to our world. Thus, pursuing a graduate degree is a way for you to make money—but it’s also a way for you to hone your skills to effectively engage in our economy.

This is because the American economy is no longer an agricultural or industrial economy that needs physical skills and labor. According to a Georgetown University study of the American labor market for the next decade, we are an information and services economy that primarily emphasizes skills like “judgment/decision-making, communications, analysis, and administration.” As a result, highly-skilled, college-educated labor has become the norm, with over 65% of American jobs requiring some college education. This trend will only accelerate. In such a world, deeper analysis, hyper-specialization, and writing skills—key competencies taught in graduate school—will become higher and higher in demand.

In such a world, David Leonhardt, a senior writer for the New York Times, argues that “we have too few college graduates.” It’s straightforwardly obvious to him that “as the economy becomes more technologically complex, the amount of education that people need will rise.” To advance the American economy and improve the future of our country,  we need to equip individuals to become highly skilled, highly educated, and highly specialized. By earning a graduate degree, you can set yourself to participate in the economy of the future and work to serve those around you in careers that are meaningful, productive and desperately needed.  

You experience greater fulfillment and vocational discovery with a graduate degree.

In light of the essential importance of higher education to building the future of the American workforce, it’s unsurprising that the impact of a graduate degree or certificate does not remain confined to salary and economic benefits either.

According to a “Study on the State of American Jobs” by the Pew Research Center, 77% of people with a postgraduate or professional degree said their graduate education helped them grow intellectually. This is a considerably higher rate than those with just a bachelor’s degree (64%) and those with just a two-year college degree (46%). Further, according to this study, postgraduate educated students are also, by far, the most likely to think the main purpose of college should be personal and intellectual growth—not just job skills training or salary increases.

This experience of personal growth among graduate students points to one of the most important non-financial benefits of a postsecondary degree: the discovery of your purpose. College—and especially graduate school—has the unique ability to offer space and time for you to examine your worldviews and explore different perspectives, so you can better uncover who you are and what you want to do with your life.

According to Dr. Ben Ries, associate dean for vocational formation at ACU Online, “So many times, people separate their work from the rest of their lives, but they’re often not mutually exclusive.” Dr. Ries goes on to explain. “At ACU, we don’t only care that students are intellectually developed, but that we’re helping them identify that in which they care about. We want to encourage them to bring their full sense of self into the world around them.” Vocational formation woven throughout a college education allows students to reflect on how to live integrated lives and provides opportunities for them to take the next steps in their spiritual journeys, both in the classroom and beyond. 

Higher wages, a meaningful career future, and deep personal growth—all of these are the results of pursuing a graduate degree. Clearly, a grad degree is worth every penny…and more.

Want to experience the benefits of investing in a graduate program for yourself? Contact us at 855-219-7300 or visit to see if one of our online programs is a good fit for you. 

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