What Is a College Degree Really Worth?

September 10, 2020

Keynote Presentation by William R. Emmons

Presentation slides (PDF)

What is a college degree really worth? Find out by watching this recorded Zoom presentation by William R. Emmons, assistant vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and lead economist for the St. Louis Fed's Center for Household Financial Stability.

As part of the St. Louis Fed's continued outreach to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Emmons explores the long-term value and varying benefits of a college degree for HBCU students and students in general, and how that value translates across generations and races.

Stay tuned after Emmons’ presentation to watch the panel discussion with local business professionals, who offer their perspectives on budgeting, money management and responsible student-loan borrowing. Panel members include Donald Grayer, founder of Business Economic Trade Association (BETA); Natonya Harbison, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Papa John’s International; and Erica Cecil, HR specialist at the St. Louis Fed.

This multi-zone Dialogue with the Fed also features introductory remarks from the senior vice presidents and regional executives of the Federal Reserve's Memphis (Douglas Scarboro) and Little Rock (Robert Hopkins) zones. While this presentation is focused on HBCUs, it is a conversation for anyone interested in post-secondary education.

  • (0:00) Introduction by Scarboro
  • (7:02) Hopkins remarks
  • (12:10) Emmons presentation
  • (19:55) Demographics of wealth
  • (23:26) Relationship between education and income
  • (25:12) Wealth gaps across educational backgrounds
  • (26:08) Other indicators of well-being
  • (29:07) Kids track parents’ education and earnings
  • (34:35) Large and growing college premiums
  • (43:05) Has college become an engine of inequality?
  • (44:23) College attainment rises for all groups … but gaps are growing
  • (45:45) Conclusion
  • (46:45) Scarboro introduces panelists

This popular lecture series addresses key issues and provides the opportunity to ask questions of Fed experts. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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