Skip to main content

The Dubious Value of Certain Diplomas

What's your degree worth?
  • Author:
  • Updated:
(Illustration: Denis Carrier)

(Illustration: Denis Carrier)

Thanks in part to demand for degrees that has taxed the capacity of traditional institutions of higher learning, for-profit colleges have seen phenomenal growth in recent years. But do degrees from such institutions lead to better-paying jobs?

University of Washington sociologist Patrick Denice reports that the answer depends in large part on whether you stick it out and earn the equivalent of a four-year degree.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, he finds that people who hold Bachelor’s degrees from for-profit schools earn roughly the same amount as those who hold equivalent diplomas from non-profit colleges and universities.

However, those with Associate’s degrees from for-profit schools earn lower hourly wages than their counterparts who attended traditional institutions. Indeed, he writes in the journal Social Science Research, their earnings “are not significantly different than high school graduates.’”

Add to the financial equation the need to pay off student loans, and that two-year diploma from Bottom Line U no longer seems like a smart investment.

Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.


Submit your response to this story to If you would like us to consider your letter for publication, please include your name, city, and state. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium.

For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine, where this piece originally appeared. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).