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Attending College Costs Money, But Not Going Also Carries a Pricetag

The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, finds that while young college graduates are leveraging increasingly more income from their degrees, those with only a high school education are losing ground.

Researchers looked at wages of full-time workers ages 25-32 with a college degree and found their incomes grew from $38,833 in 1965 to to $45,000 in 2012 dollars. In the same period, the typical high school graduate's earnings dropped from $31,384 to $28,000.

Members of the Millennial generation (those born after 1980) are the best-educated generation in history with about one-third holding a bachelor's degree or more. They understand the advantages of higher education, as 90 percent of degree holders surveyed by Pew said they already have or expect to see a return on their investment in college.

Yet, as undergraduates, survey respondents expressed regret for not doing more to better prepare themselves for the job market. Looking back, 50 percent wished they would have gotten more job experience, 38 percent think they should have studied harder, 30 percent said they should have started looking for work sooner, and 29 percent regret not choosing a different major, Pew reports.

Still, after graduation, the Pew researchers found college-educated young adults were more likely than high school graduates to describe their job as a career or a stepping-stone to a career (86 percent vs. 57 percent). They also are more likely to be "very satisfied" with their current job (53 percent) than those with no more than a high school education (37 percent).

The employment picture is much different, depending on educational attainment.  Unemployment among Millennials is 12.1 percent for those with only a high school diploma and 3.8 percent for those with a college degree. While 22 percent of high school graduates in this age group live in poverty, just 6 percent of those with a college education do.

While disparities based on education have always existed, the gap is widening. When Baby Boomers were the same age that Millennials are today, the typical high school graduate earned about 77 percent of what a college graduate made. Today high-school educated Millennials with only a high school diploma earn 62 percent of what the typical college graduate makes.

The report is based on a Pew survey of 2,002 adults, including 630 respondent ages 25-32, conducted last October, along with an analysis of labor market and economic data from the Current Population Survey.

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