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Color of Money

Analyze the Cost Of Grad School

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page F01

If an undergraduate degree is your ticket to a middle-income job, is it also a foregone conclusion that a graduate degree will boost your salary even higher?

And if that is true, is it then worth it to pile on more student loan debt to obtain a master's or a professional degree?

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Some experts think so. In fact, the College Board, a nonprofit association that is best known for its SAT program, goes out of its way in a report, "Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society," to tout the economic benefits of higher degrees.

In the report, Gaston Caperton, College Board president, writes that "in the current climate of rising college prices and budget constraints at all levels of government, it is particularly important that the benefits of higher education receive as much attention as the costs."

In 2003, the median income for a full-time, year-round worker in the United States with a four-year college degree was $49,900 annually, up from the $30,800 earned by the comparable worker with only a high school diploma, the College Board report found.

But the median for workers with master's degrees was almost twice as much per year ($59,500) as for those with just a high school diploma. And those with professional degrees earned more than three times as much per year ($95,700) as a high school graduate.

This last set of figures is impressive. To me it says a four-year degree is the meat, but a graduate degree is your earnings gravy.

But hold on.

Is that the case for everyone?

The earnings figures cited by the College Board represent median earnings, meaning half the folks made more -- and half made less.

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