August 5, 2011 12:50PM

Kudos to Carnevale!

About a month ago, Anthony Carnevale and his associates at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a report that, in my estimation, significantly oversold the value of college degrees. As I wrote, it focused too much on median earnings by educational attainment, and made some considerable leaps of faith about the value of degree‐​holding people who have jobs that do not require college degrees.

Today, in contrast, I’m grateful to Prof. Carnevale for producing a new report that goes a long way toward correcting the first flaw in his June offering.

The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings, released today, does nice work breaking earnings down by both employment category and educational attainment, and showing the significant overlaps in earnings that result. Overall, for instance, Carnevale and company found that 14 percent of workers with no more than a high school diploma earn at least as much as the median Bachelor’s holder. Especially striking, 1.3 percent of people with less than a high school education rake in more than the median possessor of a professional degree (think doctors and lawyers), the highest‐​earning educational category.

Looking at specific job categories, The College Payoff identifies some of the major occupations you can go into with lower educational attainment that out‐​earn job categories with higher ones. For instance, driver/​sales workers and truck drivers who maxed out at a high school diploma earn an average of $1,531,000 over their lifetimes. That beats the earnings of secretaries, retail sales managers, accounting and auditing clerks, customers service reps, retails salespersons, and nursing and home health aids with some college under their belt. It also beats secretaries, customer service reps, retail salespersons, and accounting and auditing clerks with Associate’s degrees. 

There’s a lot more data than that in the report, of course, and it would reward perusal.

Unfortunately, the report’s concluding section starts with this:

No matter how you cut it, more education pays.

As the report itself reveals, there are in fact lots of ways to “cut it” that enable you to earn more with less formal education. Alas, old habits die hard for Carnevale. But just for providing these data, he and his team are to be thanked.