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The value of a college degree

Patti Breckenridge

Patti Breckenridge

What’s the truth? Is a college degree worth the cost?

It’s fact that a person who earns a college degree, on average, will make $570,000 more over a lifetime than someone with only a high school degree.

Just as important, college graduates are more likely to be employed. Last month, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent among those with a bachelor’s degree compared with 7.4 percent among those with only a high school degree.

But there are very important caveats to consider if you are weighing whether to go to college, and if so, what major to pursue. Here are some of those caveats:

  • Some majors are a much better investment than others. Engineering, math, technology and science are majors that pay off well. Art and education, not so much. Georgetown University published a great report on this topic.
  • Some colleges and universities have such a solid academic reputation that their graduates, on average, receive better job offers and progress more quickly in their careers than graduates from lesser-respected institutions. Ivy League schools, for instance, provide this prestige. Some small colleges, particularly those with substandard accreditation, might not be worth the cost of tuition and books.
  • A college diploma is no guarantee of employment in the field of study, particularly in today’s challenged economy. Recent college graduates face unemployment of 8.8 percent, compared with 5.7 percent at the outset of the recession. Underemployment, where people are stuck in part-time work, has climbed to 18.3 percent for recent college graduates compared with 9.9 percent in 2007.

Given the cost of a college education, you might conclude it just isn’t worth the risk to attend, especially if you don’t know how long it will take you to graduate. (Less than 60 percent of students who enter a four-year college finish within six years.)

But a recent study shows that many college dropouts do better in the job market than individuals who graduate from high school but never take a single college course. In fact, the study says those with some college education earn an average of $8,000 more per year or $100,000 more over a lifetime than those with no college studies. In this case, going to college seems to make a lot of sense.

There is another caveat, however. Technical and vocational schools that offer programs in high-demand occupations may be a better bet for some people. The cost is less and the payoff potentially great enough to skip the college route.

The bottom line, as with everything else in life, is that you need to do some research before making any decision about whether to go to college and, if so, where and in what field. This is one of the most important investment decisions of your life. Don’t make it blindly.


11 Responses

  1. ellen October 21, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    These are all interesting statistics, but how do they apply to working for Publix? Are the statistics similar within the Publix employee pool? I.e., do your college educated employees have the same higher earnings potential as the the average American? Or is there less of a discrepancy between Publix employees with and without degrees than the study cited for this post? Is there a cap on the path to promotability based on education level or is it strictly performance-based? For example, can you be a department manager without a degree, but not a store or district manager?

    • Patti Breckenridge
      Patti Breckenridge October 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm #


      Because we have such a wide variety of positions at Publix — from those requiring PhDs to those with no education requirements — the answer is, “It depends.”
      If you are interested in a career on the retail side, a bachelor’s degree is immensely helpful if you want to reach high level management positions, but is not required.
      In fact, superb performance is much more important than a degree. On the support side, degrees are more important. So when a bachelor’s degree is required, a master’s degree is greatly appreciated.
      I hope this helps.


      • ellen October 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

        Thanks, Patti. That’s very helpful.

        • Patti Breckenridge
          Patti Breckenridge October 23, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

          You are welcome!

  2. SanLee September 2, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi Patti;
    I am a Certified Educator with an unrelated bachelor’s degree, currently employed as a prepared food clerk in your organization. Though incomplete, I also did some graduate studies in Personnel Administration at one of the local Universities here. For about a year now I have voiced my desire to transition to a position that is more suitable for my skills, talents and goals. I have reached out at all levels here and to the Education and Training office to no avail. The desired transition became crucial for me after undergoing multiple surgeries due to sudden illness a year ago. I feel I have been unfairly dealt with, especially as I watch others being given the opportunity for change, while I have been totally ignored and seemingly forgotten. Once again, I am reaching out to you with the hope that you may be able to direct my next move for favorable results. My first question is this: What are the pre-requisites for the recently created ‘Cultural Ambassador’ position? and How do I go about securing said positon? I already made an attempt through my store manager, when it was advertised a few months ago; However, I have had no positive word to date, even after query. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter, anything you can do to help is greatly appreciated. I often ponder the question you posted for your blog and would like to answer it in the affirmative in my lifetime.
    Thank you.

    • Maura Satchell
      Maura Satchell September 3, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

      Hi San,

      Thank you for your question and apologies for not responding sooner. I’m going to check on this and either I or another colleague will respond with more information for you. Thanks again for your question and for your service to Publix.

      • SanLee September 3, 2015 at 5:58 pm #

        Thank you Maura, I appreciate it. Be blessed.

        • Maura Satchell
          Maura Satchell September 4, 2015 at 10:58 am #

          My pleasure, SanLee.

    • Marcy
      Marcy September 3, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

      Hi San,
      Thank you for your service to Publix and enthusiasm in finding the right place for you to fully contribute your skills here! The culture ambassador role was implemented recently and during that implementation, a select number of associates were nominated by their District Manager for culture ambassador training and selection. At the conclusion of the training and selection process, some associates were selected to serve as culture ambassador, but not all those that were nominated to attend training were selected for the role. Now that the initial training and selection is complete, there may be a need, from time to time, to select other associates to go through that same training and selection process. The important thing to remember is that the culture ambassador role is not a position – it doesn’t have a job class. It is simply a role that an associate can fulfill as part of their usual job class. I suggest that you let your Store Manager know if you’re still interested in the role so you can be considered if another training and selection opportunity is implemented.
      Good luck to you! ~Marcy

      • SanLee September 3, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

        Thank you Marcy,
        I am expecting Blessings. I do appreciate you taking the time to look into the matter and sharing this information with me. Now, I can know in what direction to proceed.
        Be Blessed,

        • Marcy
          Marcy September 4, 2015 at 8:15 am #

          It’s my pleasure, SanLee! Enjoy your weekend and all the best to you!

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