The cost of going to college may never have seemed more daunting — but the payout may never have been more rewarding.
An older millennial with a college degree is earning a median full-time salary of $45,500 a year — $17,500 more than the median salary of $28,000 for full-time workers with just a high school diploma, a new Pew Research Center report finds.
That's the largest pay disparity between young high school- and college-educated workers in at least four generations, the report released Tuesday finds.
It's also further evidence that people with less education are at higher risk of getting left behind in the economic recovery.
"It's too bad that anybody's getting left behind, but the patterns are such that, at this point, it's gone definitely in the direction of favoring the college graduates," said Christopher Avery, a public policy professor at Harvard Kennedy School who wasn't involved in the study.
A higher salary is not the only way in which the Pew report found that a college degree is paying off for older millennials, which they defined as between 25 and 32 years old.
Pew's analysis of government data found that the unemployment rate for 25- to 32-year-olds with just a high school diploma was 12.2 percent in spring 2013, compared to an unemployment rate of just 3.8 percent for those with at least a college degree.
That college degree also appears to be keeping more people out of poverty. Nearly 22 percent of people in that age range with just a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared to barely 6 percent of those with a bachelor's degree.
The Pew report comes amid growing concerns over the nation's burgeoning student loan debt, which has topped $1 trillion, according to government estimates.