... According to the College Board, annual tuition and fees averaged $8,655 at public four-year colleges and $29,056 at private four-year schools as of October 2012. These costs don't include living expenses and textbooks or reductions for financial aid. Higher education still pays, however, because the average college graduate receives higher yearly and lifetime earnings than a high school graduate.
The average one-year difference in earnings for a college graduate over a high school graduate will pay nearly two-and-a-half years of tuition and fees at a four-year public college.
With a high school diploma only, the average full-time worker earned $652 per week in 2012, or $33,904 for 52 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bachelor's degree graduates earned an average of $1,066 per week, or $55,432 annually -- a difference of $21,528 per year. The BLS statistics include only full-time workers ages 25 and older.