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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Education and Career - U.S. Cities Where Getting a Graduate Degree Pays Off the Most

Education and Career

U.S. Cities Where Getting a Graduate Degree Pays Off the Most

Obtaining a graduate degree can be an expensive affair, costing anywhere between $30,000 – $120,000, depending on the school, area of study, and other factors. This is in addition to the cost of a bachelor’s degree.

Given the high expenses of education and the constantly evolving job markets, it’s important to consider the opportunity costs involved in pursuing a graduate degree, especially when weighed against the potential increase in earning potential. Moreover, the additional earning potential of a graduate degree varies widely depending on the location.

To help people across the U.S. determine how much value a graduate or professional degree could add to their financial lives, CEOWORLD magazine ranked 280 metro areas based on the added annual income that someone could expect with a graduate degree when compared with having only a bachelor’s degree.

Key findings

  • On average, a graduate or professional degree nets an extra $484,000 over a career. This, when added to a bachelor’s, equates to about $16,000 per year. This assumes a 30-year career in a medium or large metro area. Across the U.S., the average graduate degree holder earns $72,000 annually.
  • People with graduate degrees make less than $55,000 annually in these places, and those with graduate or professional degrees make the least in The Villages, FL metro area, where annual pay averages $50,253. Other areas where higher education earns less than $55,000 include Prescott, AZ; Morristown, TN; College Station, TX; Florence, AL; and Jefferson City, MO.
  • Graduate degree holders earn less than those with a bachelor’s in these southern cities. Tuscaloosa, AL, and Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY area residents actually see a negative return on their graduate degrees – almost $3,000 per year less than their counterparts with a bachelor’s. A graduate degree may not be worth it in other areas as well, with the pay increase averaging to less than $2,500 in Jefferson City, MO; College Station, TX; and Bloomington, IL metros.
  • Those with graduate degrees in the San Jose metro average $150,000 annual income. San Francisco has the second-highest earnings for workers with graduate degrees at $120,000. Those in Seattle, D.C., and the Trenton-Princeton metros also average over $100,000 per year. On the contrary, a graduate degree in the New York City metro only nets $93,000 on average.

Top 10 metro areas with the biggest income boost for a graduate degree:

  1. San Jose, CA

The San Jose metro area is home to 362,422 graduate degree holders, a figure representing 26.3% of the population aged 25 and older. People with graduate or professional degrees here also net the highest average annual income of all metro areas – $150,281. This is $48,067 more per year than workers with just a bachelor’s degree.

  1. Huntsville, AL

Those with a graduate or professional degree made an average of $98,616 per year, which is $36,139 more than the earnings of a worker with a bachelor’s degree. Roughly 17.7% of adults here have this level of education (61,687 people).

  1. Trenton-Princeton, NJ

Just over one in five people in the Trenton-Princeton metro have a graduate degree. This section averages an annual wage of $102,967, the fifth-highest studywide. Here, a graduate degree holder will earn an average of $35,646 more than those with only a bachelor’s degree.

  1. St. George, UT

St. George has the lowest average annual income for workers with graduate degrees in the top 10 ($73,872) – nearly 84% higher than the income of someone with just an undergraduate degree. Roughly 17,500 people (14% of the adult population) in this metro have a graduate or professional degree.

  1. Merced, CA

In the Merced metro, a graduate degree earns workers an additional $32,731 for an average annual income of $94,532. However, only 4.8% of the adult population here falls into this category – the second-lowest studywide.

  1. San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA

Residents in the San Francisco metro area are reported to earn the second-most of those with higher degrees at $120,480 per year – $31,449 more than those with a bachelor’s degree. Over three-quarters of a million residents have a graduate or professional degree here, which is 22.4% of the adult population.

  1. Provo-Orem, UT

Workers with a graduate degree make almost 60% more per year than those with a bachelor’s degree: $82,607 vs. $51,825. Roughly 14.2% of the adult population (50,950 people) is a part of this group.

  1. Visalia, CA

The Visalia metro area has nearly 18,000 residents (6.3% of adults) with graduate or professional degrees. Even so, workers with graduate degrees here earn just about $93,000 annually, i.e., $30,000 more per year than residents with just a bachelor’s degree.

  1. Salinas, CA

Workers with graduate degrees in Salinas earn a comparable salary with those in Visalia, averaging $91,160. This is $29,056 more than what a worker with a bachelor’s makes. Roughly 12% of the adult population here holds a graduate degree.

  1. Fresno, CA

Workers with a graduate or professional degree in the Fresno metro earn an average of $28,853 more per year than someone with only a bachelor’s degree for a total of $86,422. Over 50,000 people (about 8.3% of adults) chose this path.

Data and methodology

The information for this study is sourced from the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau 1-Year ACS S1501. The study analyzed 281 metropolitan areas with a population of 100,000 or more for individuals aged 25 and above. To determine which metropolitan areas had the highest nominal returns on the investment in a graduate degree, the median income for individuals aged 25 and above with a graduate or professional degree was compared to the median income of individuals with a bachelor’s degree only.

 

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Education and Career - U.S. Cities Where Getting a Graduate Degree Pays Off the Most
Anindita Banerjee
National Reporting Fellow at CEOWORLD magazine. I am a determined writer and editor with a combination of "old-school" journalistic instincts from the pre-web days and the savvy digital journalism of the 21st Century. I have the ability to connect with the audience through transparent and effective prose. My natural storytelling abilities have been recognized and praised by a newspaper association. My career mission is to build profitable newsrooms that empower journalists to create their best work.