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Earn your degree. Boost your salary. Here's how.

Wondering whether a college degree is worth the time and money? Whether you look at the short-term or long-term advantages, the answer in both cases is a resounding 'yes!'

More money. A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau regarding average earnings makes a strong case for college education.

It found that high school graduates currently earn $28,645 a year, while workers with some high school education earn $19,169. Compare that with associates degree holders, who reportedly make somewhere between $32,000 and $44,000, according to real-time data from Payscale.com. The Census Bureau found that bachelor degree holders make, on average, $51,554, and masters and doctorate holders make $78,093.

Each year, the difference between what the typical college graduate and high school graduate makes is as much as $50,000. What could you do with $50,000 more a year?

Long-term, the difference is even more staggering. High school graduates will earn an average of $1.2 million during their adult career, associates degree holders will earn $1.6 million in that same period, and bachelors degree graduates will earn about $2.1 million. Using other Census data for comparison, master's degree holders will earn more than $2.5 million. We're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But do you need an Ivy League degree to earn that kind of cash? No, and in many cases, online degree programs have a bigger advantage.

'There definitely is value to getting an online degree,' says Terrence Thomas, chief marketing officer for eLearners.com, a resource for students considering an online degree program. But it turns out that earning an online degree may reflect even more positively on the students than you might expect.

More respect. 'Online programs tend to attract people who are achievement-oriented,' says Thomas. 'Students who take that first step toward improving their marketability demonstrate a motivation and willingness to learn.' Those are the kinds of employees companies want to hire and keep.

Simply taking that first step toward earning a degree, whether it's an associates, bachelors, or masters, can significantly enhance your image at work.

More opportunities. Earning a degree can yield even more rewards, reports the Institute for Higher Education Policy. It found that college grads enjoyed 'increased personal and professional mobility.' That is, they received more job opportunities as a result of their degree.

A Carnegie Foundation report echoed those findings, stating that college attendance increased economic and job security for those who earned bachelors degrees. The implication is that the more education, the more job opportunities, the more career growth and financial success graduates may experience.

More skills. Of course, those opportunities arise because students are learning new skills. Employees who take the time to acquire new abilities, develop new talents, or broaden their expertise are generally viewed as more valuable than those who don't. The more skills you have the more marketable you are, says Thomas.

'Workers with more training usually earn more,' states a Federal Consumer Information Center report. And 'The most highly trained workers tend to collect the largest paychecks and have a better chance of advancing into supervisory jobs.'

In addition, earning a college degree can it possible for you to change careers. Not satisfied with your current job? Enrolling in a degree program to learn a new skill, especially in technology degree programs, healthcare degree programs, or marketing degree programs, can open new doors in these fast-growth industries.

More prestige. With nearly 3.2 million students taking courses online in 2005, online study is certainly becoming more common. In addition, it is also becoming more prestigious.

The Sloan Consortium on Distance Education - a well-respected educational organization - surveyed academic leaders in 2006 and reported that 62% rated online education as 'good as or better' than face-to-face instruction. As good as or better than traditional degree programs. Yet without all the disadvantages of full-time, on-campus courses. Yet at some universities you have the option of attending classes on-site or online.

More flexibility. While earning a college degree has many benefits, attending an online university offers scheduling flexibility you may never have thought possible. And it's opening doors for people who never imagined they could be students.

No matter how many different roles you fill - employee, single parent, spouse, caregiver, volunteer, you name it - online degree programs make it possible for you to squeeze class time in between life.

More satisfaction. Perhaps most important of all, however, research has shown a positive correlation between completing a college degree and good personal health. And that sense of personal accomplishment may be the most important reason of all to consider earning a college degree.

Marcia Layton Turner is a freelance writer based in Western New York. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Black Enterprise, and Entrepreneur, among many others.

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