Graduate Studies

Dean's View - The College Payoff

Individuals choose to go to graduate school for a variety of reasons. Researchers suggest that earning a graduate degree can facilitate entry into a full-time career, help advance a career by increasing one’s knowledge base, provide greater flexibility for career changes, and enhance overall job satisfaction.  In addition to these incentives, a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce confirms the increasing financial value of attaining a graduate degree.  Amidst difficult economic times, experts from Georgetown University and the Lumina Foundation produced new evidence that postsecondary education has become a gateway to the middle class and one of our most important economic drivers.1

The College Payoff, Education, Occupation, and Lifetime Earnings by Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah provides an in-depth examination and report of how a college degree influences the lifetime earning power of an individual.1 This report comes at a time when individuals are beginning to question the value of a college degree and state governments are drastically reducing support to higher education.  These factors also affect opinions about attending graduate school.  The College Payoff outlines four rules governing the effects of higher education on future earnings:

Rule 1: Degree Level Matters.  Graduate degrees confer higher earnings compared to a bachelor’s degree.  On average, a graduate degree will provide additional income between $400,000 and $1.3 million beyond a bachelor’s degree over the course of a lifetime. 

Rule 2: Occupational choice can trump degree level. Individuals with less education in high-income occupations can out-earn people with more education in lower-income occupations. 

Rule 3: While occupation can sometimes trump education, degree level still matters most within individual occupations.  Within the same occupation, individuals with higher educational achievement almost always have a higher income than those with less educational achievement.  This is a distinct benefit that rewards employees who continue their studies, even when they keep the same job.

Rule 4: Race/ethnicity and gender are wild cards that matter more than education or occupation in determining earnings.  Women still earn less than men, even when they work the same number of hours.  This gap is consistent across all levels of educational achievement.  Similar differences also exist by race and ethnicity, with African-Americans and Latinos earning less than White employees, even among the most highly-educated workers.1

As these researchers show, earning a college degree provides considerable economic return. Additionally, the approximately 33% of bachelor’s degree holders who continue on to graduate and professional schools have an even more prosperous future before them.  

It is a difficult and challenging time for higher education in the United States.  At GVSU we remain committed to looking for ways to provide a rich and rewarding graduate education experience that will prepare our students for what lies ahead.  Should you have any comments or questions, please contact the Office of Graduate Studies at


Jeffrey A. Potteiger
Dean of Graduate Studies

1The College Payoff, Education, Occupation, and Lifetime Earnings Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, The Georgetown University Center on Education and The Workforce, August 5, 2011,

Page last modified June 26, 2012