You May Be Surprised On The Success Rate of Non-Graduates

College Graduates vs Non-Graduates

We’ve all heard the stories, but what is the truth?

With the state of the economy, a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough anymore. It doesn’t matter if you’re college-educated because you won’t find a job.

College isn’t worth what it used to be; that’s why the success rate of college graduates vs. non-graduates is important.

See also: What to Wear during a College Interview

In this piece, we asked a simple question, “Are college graduates really more successful than non-graduates?” The answer is, “Yes.”

Over the last decade, this has been one of the dominating economic narratives.

But how true is it?

Recent data indicate the value in obtaining a four-year degree—now more than ever.

While many might suggest that college graduates aren’t more successful than those with high school diplomas, the data speaks for itself.

Let’s take a look at this information as we answer the question, “Are college graduates really more successful than non-graduates?”

Here is a video on this subject if you prefer to watch it or get another perspective.


One of the main indicators of economic success is the unemployment rate.

In this regard, it seems that both high school and college graduates are doing relatively well.

In January 2017, the government officially listed the unemployment rate for college graduates at 2.5%. On the other hand, high school graduates faced a 5.2% unemployment rate.

That’s a pretty stark divide. Fast forward nearly two years into the current administration (August 2018), and these numbers are much closer: a 2.1% unemployment rate for college graduates and a 4.3% unemployment rate for high school graduates.

Clearly, neither college graduates nor high school graduates have issues finding a job.

Still, college graduates hold a slight edge over high school graduates in this regard.

In fact, data indicate that the employment of college graduates has been up 21% since the last decade, meaning that the demand for college graduates is in increasing demand if anything.

Knowing this, it’s also important to look at the type of jobs these individuals hold. Surprisingly, 45% of college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

That’s a pretty startling statistic. However, a little digging shows that only 20% of these graduates work in low-paying fields.

Still, many of the best and highest-paying jobs require a college degree.

This means that college graduates disproportionately occupy spaces at the top of the totem pole, leaving high school grads and other individuals to fill in the gaps below.

While it’s certainly true that high school graduates have gone on to successful entrepreneurial careers (Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates come to mind), it’s important to recognize that this is the exception to the rule.


A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that the median salary for those with a college degree is on average $17,000 higher than that of a high school graduate.

To further this divide, a study conducted by Georgetown University has shown that college graduates make on average one million more dollars throughout their lifetimes than do those who have only a high school diploma.

That’s not chump change.

According to a study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute in 2015, college graduates earn on average 56% more per year than their high school graduate counterparts.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Recent research reveals that wages for college graduates have gone up—in some cases as high as 23% (among middle-aged white males).

Unfortunately, the income for this same subgroup without a college education has declined by 9%, and since 2009, those who only have their high school diplomas have witnessed a 3% decline in their income.

While these numbers look to improve under a growing economy, it’s clear that most high school graduates live far behind the standard of most college graduates.

Quality of Life

But how does this affect the quality of life?

Unfortunately, in quite a big way.

As it turns out, college graduates not only have easier access to higher-paying jobs, but they also have better access to jobs that provide quality benefits.

This means that a disproportionate amount of college graduates enjoy the benefits of health insurance when compared to high school graduates.

Increased pay also makes it easier for college graduates to shoulder the ever-rising cost of insurance premiums.

For those high school graduates who don’t qualify for government subsidies to find access to high-quality health insurance.

This paints the college and high school graduate divide in a light that goes deeper than wealth and luxury.

As of 2014, the percentage of college graduates who received government food stamps was at 5%, an all-time high at the time.

Conversely, 37% of high school graduates at the time were on food stamps.

This shows a stark division in quality of life and the necessity of government assistance to make ends meet.

It also indicates that individuals who have a college degree (and the families of those individuals) generally operate in higher economic brackets and enjoy a higher standard of living.

How about this surprising statistic?

Research shows that those with college degrees live on average seven years longer than those with high school diplomas or less.

The study in question, conducted by the University of Maine, also found that those who graduate from college report healthy on average 44% more than those who do not go to college.


If there’s one area where skipping out on college seems to benefit, it’s debt.

As of February 2018, the average college graduate has around $37,172 in student loan debt, and that’s a figure that most cannot pay back immediately after graduation.

For those college students who are unfortunate enough to find jobs, not in their field, this can lead to damaged credit or an increased need to find a job—even if it’s not the “right” job.

With over 70% of college students in need of loans, the problem of debt doesn’t look to go anywhere any time soon.

Most terms indicate that this debt must be paid off within five to ten years.

This often proves a financial burden for college graduates struggling in the marketplace or seeking further education to fill their desired roles.

Many high school graduates can obtain high-paying jobs relatively debt-free by enrolling in technical programs or trade schools.

These schools and programs allow them to learn marketable skills for cheap costs.

The economic payoff is good.

While these skills often can’t match top college graduates, they allow for massive economic advancement with little to no debt.

For this reason, many would-be college students are seeking technical or trade options to avoid unpayable debts and bad credit.

Indeed, this may be the better option for students who seek majors in the humanities or other fields outside of the marketable STEM fields.


It seems that obtaining a college degree isn’t just becoming more valuable in the workplace—it’s also becoming more valuable on the home front.

This comes from a Pew Research study that shows that the marriage rate for those with college degrees is much higher than for those without (65% vs. 50% as of 2015). What can we interpret from this data?

A lot, actually.

Namely, it appears that those who do well in school and thus get a better job also do well at building families.

This makes sense, as those with economic security are more attractive mates and more qualified candidates for raising children.

As this is the widest this particular gap has ever been, it makes sense to infer that a college education is becoming more of a necessity—even outside the workforce.

Further Pew Research indicates that those with college degrees have greater success at maintaining their marriages.

A 2015 study found that women who married with a college degree saw a 78% success rate of keeping their marriages over the course of twenty years, while only 40% of women with a high school diploma saw the same level of success. 

This is a stark divide and one that has many implications.

First, it appears that having a college education plays a significant role in not only the rate at which people are married but to the degree to which those marriages are positive.

This means that college-educated couples generally have longer marriages and (theoretically) a more positive, economically-grounded household in which to raise their children.

It also means that those with college educations can expect a steadier social life and, in general, less economic burden.

Because marriage rates are consistently higher and for a longer duration, it can be inferred that the rate at which those with college educations are required to pay child support or live as single mothers is also lower.

For this reason, the economic advantages of being a college graduate don’t end with having easier access to better-paying jobs and better health insurance benefits.

Instead, these benefits permeate every facet of the college graduate’s life, affecting even his marriage and his family’s upbringing.

This is a clear advantage and should be seen as a major reason to attend college over simply going to high school.

Fortunately for college graduates, it seems as if the economic, social, and romantic benefits of seeking higher education are real and supported by all the hard data.

What This Means

If you’re a high school graduate who is past the point of going to college, you may be asking, “What does this mean for me?”

I get it—the data seems overwhelmingly negative.

For this reason, it’s important to point out that these are just general trends.

This does nothing to answer that several high school graduates are more economically, socially, and romantically than their college-educated peers.

Because these are just general trends, it’s entirely up to the individual to decide how his life will turn out.

Several trade school options increase a high school graduate’s marketability even without college.

This is to say: don’t let the fact that you don’t have a college education keeps you down.

Don’t be disheartened by trends or data that suggest most college graduates have it easier. This isn’t always the case.

The flip side to this is that you can’t expect a better life because you are a college graduate.

Much of your success will be determined by the field you enter and the dedication to which you learn your craft.

If you choose a not-in-demand major (such as dance), you may find it harder to succeed in the marketplace.

In short, it’s not enough to go to college. Instead, it would help if you found the right major that maximizes your potential in the marketplace.

This is the only way to take optimal advantage of your college education.

The Bottom Line

Though this answer speaks only to broad statistics, it’s true that, on average, college graduates enjoy greater economic advantages and a higher quality of life.

Specifically, college graduates can expect to find better-paying jobs that offer better benefits for themselves and their families.

Additionally, college graduates are currently seeing a rise in wages that many high school graduates are not experiencing.

There are other benefits to graduating from college as well.

Longer life expectancies and greater marital success are just a few of these benefits.

It appears that graduating from college is truly one of the smartest investments a young student can make, even with an average debt that has almost hit the $40,000 mark.

Because college graduates earn nearly one million more dollars over the course of their lives than those with just a high school diploma, the cost of education is easily mitigated.

Despite this, there are several opportunities for high school graduates to succeed, so this shouldn’t just be taken as a diagnosis of failure for high school graduates.

With an improving economy and higher employment rates for those who have only a high school diploma, the outlook for those who did not attend college is brighter than ever.

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