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Study: State University System degree in Florida can mean huge boost in lifetime earnings

A new economic study suggests that having a degree from one of Florida's 11 state universities can be a financial lifesaver — equivalent to more than $1 million in a worker's lifetime earnings.

The Board of Governors of the State University System (SUS) requested the economic study to update earlier figures, said Julie Harrington, director of Florida State University's Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis.

The team included economists from FSU and the University of Florida.

"In terms of percentage of gross national product, the economic impact resulting from an SUS-earned degree is comparable to the economic impact of all defense spending in Florida — 7.25 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively," Harrington said.

Julie Harrington

The study found that the 11 public universities had a nearly $52 billion value-added economic impact on the state's economy during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which ended in June 2010. That represents a little more than 7.25 percent of the state's total economic activity and includes regional multiplier effects produced by government and household spending by those who work for, attend or conduct business related to the State University System.

The economists estimated that the universities and related businesses are responsible directly and indirectly for about 771,000 jobs in the state, or 7.9 percent of the state's work force.

The study did not include spending on college sports events, nor did it include spending by university technology "spinoff" companies.

The salary gap between college degree holders and those with high school diplomas was not unexpected, but the results were substantive nonetheless, Harrington said.

Using data from the state's Department of Education, the study found these average annual earnings for Florida high school and university graduates in fiscal year 2009-2010 who were employed in Florida that year:

  • those with a high school diploma, $20,924;
  • those with a bachelor's degree, $36,520;
  • those with a master's degree, $58,698;
  • those with a doctorate, $66,743, and
  • professionals, such as physicians or attorneys, $70,716.

The employment earnings potential for university graduates at all levels was greater than for those with high school diplomas, Harrington noted.

Extended to 30 years and accounting for typical pay increases, the difference between those with high school diplomas and higher degrees remained vast, with bachelor's degree recipients outpacing high school graduates by more than $550,000; master's degrees, more than $850,000; doctorates, more than $1.3 million; and professionals, more than $1.8 million.

Continued support of, and refinements to, the higher education database such as the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program is needed in order to gauge and track post-graduate employment both in- and out-of state, Harrington said.

Besides FSU and UF, the state's public universities are the University of West Florida, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, the University of North Florida, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida, New College of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.

The research team also included Martijn Niekus and Keith Baker, both from Florida State's Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, and Alan W. Hodges, Thomas Stevens and Rodney Clouser, all from UF's Food and Resource Economics Department.

For additional information, contact Harrington at (850) 644-7357 or

14 February 2012