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Economic Opportunity: The Value of College

Why should I go to college?

10 years after graduating Virginia high schools, your earnings will likely be higher.

By and large, college graduates earn more than those that don't complete a credential. Further, college graduates generally experience higher rates of employment - they are less likely to become unemployed. As you study this chart, something to keep in mind is that the more time spent in school means less time working. Why is this important? Because these wages all represent 10 years after high school graduation and the median wage of $26,224 for individuals with only a high school diploma have nine or ten years work experience compared to four, five or six, for those with a bachelor's degree with a median wage of $42,273. Time matters.

Wage differences exist among groups. There are wage differences by gender and race ethnicity. These differences are often the result of structures in the economy that benefit one group over the others, either directly or by rewarding choices/behaviors that are more easily accessed by some groups.

Learn more about the economic value of a degree here.

Won't I have to borrow a lot for college?

The reality is that many students have to borrow for college.
It is probably not as much as you think.

There is little question that the cost of college, of any college, is not cheap. Sticker prices at four-year colleges, especially with room & board, can look frighteningly high if not completely out of reach. For this reason, the US Education Department requires colleges to calculate and report the Net Price of Attendance and provide a Net Price Calculator on their websites. (You can find links to these on SCHEV's Institution Profiles below.) Many students & families borrow for college and it can be a good investment. However, borrowers should understand, that by itself, a college degree does not guarantee a job. There is risk and reward based on multitude of factors.

Virginia's community colleges are highly affordable. Most students (58%) graduate with no debt at all. Even at Virginia's four-year colleges, both public and private (nonprofit), 38% of students graduate with no debt at all.

Learn more about student debt at Virginia's colleges.

Learn more about how to pay for college here.

Will student debt affect my lifestyle?
We provide a budget tool below to help you explore how borrowing for college can impact your expenses after college. The estimated repayment rates are based on a standard 10-year repayment plan and an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) option that is available for many federal loans. Cost estimates are from the Project on a Living Wage and represent estimates for Virginia and its localities.

What do we know about 12-month earnings per worker from the US Census, by levels of educational attainment? This information provides additional context about how earnings may differ based on geography. Please note that these earnings are for workers over age 25 to retirement, and thus represent wide ranges of experience which generally impacts earnings.
Median Wages, Statewide (VA) (Source: ACS)
Overall MedianLess Than HSHS Diploma or Equiv.Some College or Associates DegreeBachelor's DegreeGraduate or Professional Degree
Source: American Community Survey (ACS), 2016.

Estimated Monthly Budget for Statewide (VA)
FoodChildcareMedicalHousingTransportationotherFed. TaxFICAVA TaxTotal
$ 249$ 0$ 212$ 979$ 360$ 225$ 412$ 103$ 52$ 2,592

Source: MIT Living Wage Project

Monthly Savings Estimates/Goals
Retirement Savings (10%)Emergency Savings (5%)College Savings ($250/child)Grand Total (Incl. savings)
$ 354$ 177$ 0$ 3,124
How much should I save for retirement?
How much should I save for my child's college costs?

Annual Wage Estimate:  $42,506

Use the slider below to estimate your total federal loans (see the information on borrowing limits in the footer)

Total Private Loans Estimate:  $0

Do you know about the various income-driven repayment options for federal student loans? These programs allow borrowers to obtain monthly payments based on a percentage of their income that can result in payments that are lower than the standard repayment terms. Payments can be as low $0 based on income and family size. These programs even offer forgiveness of the remaining balance after 25 years of payments. For individuals working in the public sector (like teachers) and certain nonprofit organizations (such as museums), there is Public Service Loan Forgiveness which offers forgiveness of the remaining balance after only 10 years of qualifying payments (which may be income-based). However, it is worth noting there are currently structural problems with this program with only one percent of applicants actually qualifying for forgiveness.

The estimates above from the Living Wage Project should be considered as minimal. These are estimates a single individual without dependents and thus may not match your circumstance. Further, there is wide variance across the state in terms of housing costs and transportation needs. Treat this as a starting point for understanding your needs.

To explore earnings, debt, and the cost of living for individual majors, visit this page.

What about wages over the long-term?


One of the things we learn by looking at wages over time is that there is a great deal of variance. What this means, is that there is not one experience, one outcome, that is the same for everyone that completes a college degree. Over time, wages increase. For some individuals they increase more, for others they increase less. We also learn that salary compression is a real thing - new hires are often hired at wages that exceed wages of employees that have been in place for some years. Because of this, later years of graduates may show markedly higher wages.

Notice how the upper ranges grow wider in the later years following degree completion. This indicates much greater variation in outcomes. This occurs for a number of reasons including earning advanced degrees, certifications, licenses, and sometimes just being lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Success is often attributable to personal skills - the ability to get along with others, communicate well, problem-solve, and identifying opportunities when they show up.

To explore earnings over periods of up to 25 years, visit this page.

Yes, major can matter. Some majors are in more demand by employers than others. This is to be expected, in part, because fewer people choose these majors. Not everyone wants to major in math, computer science, or physics. It can be a question of interest or self-assessment (do I think I can do this?). However, a college major does not have to be destiny. Instead, it can be a starting point, if one is willing to equip themselves with skills that are in demand. One can study art for four years while also taking programming courses, complete an art degree and still be highly employable - perhaps as a data-artist.

To explore earnings comparisons by discipline, visit this page.

Does major matter? It certainly can!

Associates Degree (Applied), Three Years Post-Completion (All Graduates)
Largest Programs (Up to 25)25th PercentileMedian Wage75th Percentile
Accounting and Related Services, Other$23,211$31,929$44,146
Agricultural Production Operations, General$24,561$35,669$43,135
Automobile/Automotive Mechanics Technology/Technician$28,175$39,321$54,421
Business Administration, Management and Operations, Other$23,340$35,067$46,645
Business Operations Support and Secretarial Services, Other$17,706$23,919$31,657
CAD/CADD Drafting and/or Design Technology/Technician$25,736$32,654$52,034
Career Services Certificate$15,736$25,800$33,712
Child Care Provider/Assistant$12,854$19,525$26,854
Clinical/Medical Laboratory Technician$33,345$42,688$51,943
Computer and Information Sciences, General$23,447$39,290$56,497
Cooking and Related Culinary Arts, General$16,485$23,442$34,213
Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration$23,855$34,273$45,310
Dental Hygiene/Hygienist$42,298$51,554$69,711
Design and Visual Communications, General$14,277$25,804$37,499
Diagnostic Medical Sonography/Sonographer and Ultrasound Technician$48,823$55,809$69,865
Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering Technology/Technician$29,011$52,050$80,323
Emergency Medical Technology/Technician (EMT Paramedic)$39,414$50,283$71,655
Engineering Technology, General$31,755$41,569$60,613
Fire Science/Fire-fighting$43,431$57,434$72,241
Funeral Service and Mortuary Science, General$35,039$42,170$53,000
Health Information/Medical Records Technology/Technician$31,832$42,185$57,357
Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Refrigeration Maintenance Technology/Technician$49,833$59,254$76,215
Hospitality Administration/Management, General$21,517$29,160$36,280
Industrial Electronics Technology/Technician$33,489$53,793$71,077

There are many possible majors to choose that can lead to worthwhile careers after completing an Associate degree of Applied Science (AAS). Further, such a degree does not prevent one from completing bachelor's degree or beyond later in life. George Mason University and Radford University are just two examples of institutions with a transfer track for the AAS.

Learn more about the AAS here.
Bachelor's Degree, Three Years Post-Completion (All Graduates)
Largest Programs (Up to 25)25th PercentileMedian Wage75th Percentile
Agriculture, General$38,899$44,828$51,704
Animal Sciences, General$23,268$28,635$44,264
Area Studies, Other$25,218$34,522$43,158
Art History, Criticism and Conservation$24,684$31,594$43,111
Art/Art Studies, General$23,392$33,979$43,451
Audiology/Audiologist and Speech-Language Pathology/Pathologist$28,329$41,830$55,065
Biological and Physical Sciences$27,303$36,101$48,884
Biology/Biological Sciences, General$22,681$36,611$47,523
Business Administration and Management, General$35,145$48,849$65,546
Business/Commerce, General$33,102$46,652$63,533
Business/Managerial Economics$41,201$54,390$75,471
Career Services Certificate$25,301$32,971$39,355
Chemistry, General$29,585$41,351$51,081
Cinematography and Film/Video Production$20,781$23,328$50,050
Civil Engineering, General$56,379$63,358$72,688
Clinical Laboratory Science/Medical Technology/Technologist$46,948$54,778$61,510
Communication, General$27,417$38,525$50,314
Communication, Journalism, and Related Programs, Other$24,048$30,957$43,569
Community Health and Preventive Medicine$34,196$48,949$58,959
Community Health Services/Liaison/Counseling$24,940$38,816$53,046
Computer and Information Sciences, General$56,625$73,652$88,791
Computer Engineering, General$60,455$74,581$85,654
Computer Science$47,636$59,711$73,230

There are so many possible majors and related occupations for the bachelor's degree it can easily be overwhelming. Talk to your counselor, your teachers, professionals in your community, about the possibilities. There are 44 four-year colleges offering undergraduate programs leading to bachelor's degree in the Commonwealth. Some of these have dozens of majors. If a topic interests you, there is probably a program for it.

Learn more about the bachelor degree programs and outcomes here.

Where are Virginia's colleges?

Type of Colleges and Universities       
Click the college name to go to the institution profile.
InstitutionTypeTotal EnrollmentUndergraduate Enrollment
Appalachian College of PharmacyPrivate Four-year or above, Grad./Professional Only 2210
Averett UniversityPrivate Four-year or above952952
Averett University Non-TraditionalPrivate Four-year or above588267
Blue Ridge Community CollegePublic Two-year4,0994,099
Bluefield CollegePrivate Four-year or above1,190981
Bridgewater CollegePrivate Four-year or above1,8571,839
Central Virginia Community CollegePublic Two-year4,0474,047
Christendom CollegePrivate Four-year or above586504
Christopher Newport UniversityPublic Four-year or above4,9574,857
College of William and MaryPublic Four-year or above8,8176,377
Dabney S. Lancaster Community CollegePublic Two-year981981
Danville Community CollegePublic Two-year2,8282,828
Eastern Mennonite UniversityPrivate Four-year or above1,4441,040
Eastern Shore Community CollegePublic Two-year654654
Eastern Virginia Medical SchoolPrivate Four-year or above, Grad./Professional Only 1,3830
Edward Via College of Osteopathic MedicinePrivate Four-year or above, Grad./Professional Only 7320
Emory and Henry CollegePrivate Four-year or above1,240977
Ferrum CollegePrivate Four-year or above1,1191,119
George Mason UniversityPublic Four-year or above37,67726,553
George Washington UniversityPrivate Four-year or above1,725625
Germanna Community CollegePublic Two-year7,2087,208
Hampden-Sydney CollegePrivate Four-year or above, Men Only1,0721,072
Hampton UniversityPrivate Four-year or above, HBCU4,3213,672
Hollins UniversityPrivate Four-year or above, Women Only 805676
J Sargeant Reynolds Community CollegePublic Two-year8,7378,737
James Madison UniversityPublic Four-year or above21,75119,923
Jefferson College of Health SciencesPrivate Four-year or above1,128776
John Tyler Community CollegePublic Two-year10,14410,144
Liberty UniversityPrivate Four-year or above79,15245,935
Longwood UniversityPublic Four-year or above4,9114,324
Lord Fairfax Community CollegePublic Two-year6,7986,798
Mary Baldwin UniversityPrivate Four-year or above, Women Only 1,9001,328
Marymount UniversityPrivate Four-year or above3,4182,287
Mountain Empire Community CollegePublic Two-year2,5052,505
New River Community CollegePublic Two-year4,4194,419
Norfolk State UniversityPublic Four-year or above, HBCU5,2044,660
Northern Virginia Community CollegePublic Two-year50,92950,929
Old Dominion UniversityPublic Four-year or above24,17619,372
Patrick Henry Community CollegePublic Two-year2,2662,266
Paul D Camp Community CollegePublic Two-year1,2881,288
Piedmont Virginia Community CollegePublic Two-year5,4455,445
Radford UniversityPublic Four-year or above9,3357,926
Randolph CollegePrivate Four-year or above623597
Randolph-Macon CollegePrivate Four-year or above1,4881,488
Rappahannock Community CollegePublic Two-year3,0823,082
Regent UniversityPrivate Four-year or above10,8595,007
Richard Bland CollegePublic Two-year2,3582,358
Roanoke CollegePrivate Four-year or above2,0332,033
Shenandoah UniversityPrivate Four-year or above3,8172,034
Southern Virginia UniversityPrivate Four-year or above979979
Southside Virginia Community CollegePublic Two-year3,4303,430
Southwest Virginia Community CollegePublic Two-year2,3732,373
Sweet Briar CollegePrivate Four-year or above, Women Only 330329
Thomas Nelson Community CollegePublic Two-year7,6857,685
Tidewater Community CollegePublic Two-year20,94120,941
University of LynchburgPrivate Four-year or above3,0812,086
University of Mary WashingtonPublic Four-year or above4,7274,410
University of RichmondPrivate Four-year or above4,0023,228
University of VirginiaPublic Four-year or above24,63916,777
University of Virginia's College at WisePublic Four-year or above2,0652,065
Virginia Commonwealth UniversityPublic Four-year or above31,07624,059
Virginia Highlands Community CollegePublic Two-year2,3872,387
Virginia Military InstitutePublic Four-year or above1,6851,685
Virginia State UniversityPublic Four-year or above, HBCU4,3853,996
Virginia TechPublic Four-year or above34,85027,811
Virginia Union UniversityPrivate Four-year or above, HBCU1,5601,185
Virginia Wesleyan UniversityPrivate Four-year or above1,4381,358
Virginia Western Community CollegePublic Two-year6,8276,827
Washington and Lee UniversityPrivate Four-year or above2,2201,826
Wytheville Community CollegePublic Two-year2,5142,514

There is unquestionably much more to life and education than getting a job. Individuals pursue postsecondary education for a variety of reasons, including lifelong learning and personal skills development. They pursue higher levels of education to benefit their community, the Commonwealth, and the nation, as well as themselves. There is also no question that some individuals pursue a career as the primary focus of their educational pursuit. This is especially true when one considers the breadth of degree and certificate opportunities the public and independent colleges and universities of the Commonwealth have to offer.

In using the data contained within these reports, users should exercise great care to understand the limitations of the available data and their meaning. Wage outcomes of graduates do not measure the quality or effectiveness of any institution. Instead, they provide basic facts about the experiences of graduates after entering the workforce and indications as to broadest levels of outcome in the Commonwealth - full-time employment, part-time enrollment, and enrollment in higher-level programs.

SCHEV does not endorse or recommend using these data to evaluate program or institution quality. While it may be tempting to rank and compare programs at multiple institutions, any ranking that does not consider family wealth of the graduates, Virginia residency, and the mix of gender & race/ethnicity is necessarily flawed as all of these are factors in individual earnings.

    The first thing to know about the statistics within these pages is that one cannot calculate a placement rate or employment rate. This is because the data available (as described below) are limited to individuals working in Virginia and in jobs covered by unemployment insurance. This is far from everyone working.
    These data are not projections of what newer or future graduates may or will earn. Instead they are rigorous observations of the experience of a subpopulation of graduates. Users can use the distributions of wage outcomes by institution, degree, and major, as a guide to a range of possible outcomes. These outcomes, combined with data on debt that are presented in the reports, can help the user to determine if the range of earnings of past graduates will support the level of debt the user believes they might accrue.
    Users should understand there three things that really drive wage outcomes for a group of graduates at an institution: the mix of programs, the characteristics of the student body (demography matters); and the predominant locations in which graduates work (after all, Northern Virginia has generally higher wages then elsewhere in the state).


Debt: All debt figures refer to education-related debt processed through institutions. i.e. student loans. Unless specified as PLUS loans for undergraduates, the student debt refers to loans taken out by the student, not by parents or relatives. Further, reported student debt calculations are based on graduates who borrowed only. This is why we report the percentage of students/graduates wth debt.


Sample Budgets: These estimates are from the Living Wage project at MIT and are based on the estimated cost of a single adult living in Virginia. Tax and FICA withholding estimates based on a single, unmarried filer.

O*NET in-it

Limits on the Display of Data

The most important limit to understand is that these short-term measures of outcomes are not meaningful for evaluating the effectiveness of institutions or programs. These are not measures of employment rates, nor they comparable to the so-called Gainful Employment metrics produced by the US Department of Education. These measures are meant to inform readers of the outcomes of graduates in the near-term following degree completion and represent individual behavior and local economies more than any other factor.

In order to protect confidentiality and to accommodate both the many small programs in the Commonwealth and the limits of the available data, these reports will display program-level data only under the following conditions:

1. Generally, single-year data will not be reported at the level of institution/degree/and program, only rolling five-year aggregates. For example, graduates of 2005-06 will be reported with those of 2004-05, 2003-04, 2002-03, and 2001-02.

2. Data at the institution and degree level will be reported as annual data (without the five-year rollups). This is also true for data at the state-level for degrees and programs. 3. The number of wage-reported graduates must be equal to or greater than 15 with full-time wage equivalent (FTWE) reported wages.

4. At least 30% of the cohort of graduates must have been matched and reported with full-time wage equivalent (FTWE) reported wages, or 20% with a minimum of 200 graduates.

5. The current definition of FTWE is at least three quarters of wages must be reported for each year.

6. Wages and earnings are not adjusted for inflation.

The wage data included in these reports represent only the following individuals:
1. Graduates successfully matched to the Unemployment Insurance Wage records collected by the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC).
2. Graduates employed in Virginia by an entity that reports to the VEC. This excludes federal employees, including those within the Department of Defense.

What employers are subject to the Unemployment Tax and must be registered and file with the Virginia Employment Commission? They must have met one of the following criteria:

  • One or more employees (ten employees if your operation is agricultural) for some portion of a day during any 20 different weeks in a calendar year
  • A $1,500 or more total gross quarterly payroll ($20,000 if your business is agricultural; $1,000 if domestic labor)
  • Acquired a business subject to this tax
  • Been subject to the Federal Unemployment Tax
  • A governmental operation or political subdivision
  • A nonprofit organization under Section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and had four or more employees for some portion of a day during any 20 different weeks in a calendar year

These criteria mean that individuals working as consultants, independent contractors (including many psychologists, counselors, barbers, cosmetologists, IT workers, and P-14 wage employees of the Commonwealth) may be excluded, as are a list of others that may be found here.