SCHINNEN, The Netherlands - Want to become a multi-millionaire' Get a master's degree. It's one of the surest ways to earn more income, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

Employees with a master's degree earn an average of $2.5 million over the course of their working life, defined as ages 25 to 64, according to the report.

Those with doctoral degrees earn an average of $3.4 million, and a professional degree brings in $4.4 million, compared to those with only a high school diploma who earn just over one million, or those with a bachelor's degree whose earnings average $2.1 million over their working life.

"At most ages, more education equates with higher earnings, and the payoff is most notable at the highest educational levels," said Jennifer Cheeseman Day, co-author of the report.

Byron Johnston, USAG Schinnen's Education Center Director, thinks that's reason enough to pursue higher education.

"Most people in government service who seek higher education are doing it to advance their careers within the government," Johnston said. "They're looking for a promotion or a move into another career field within the government."

A master's degree sends a signal to an employer, Johnston said.

"The government sees a more capable employee who can handle a diverse problem set and move up in managerial responsibility," he explained.

Besides promotions, an advanced degree often substitutes for years of experience, which may qualify employees for jobs outside their current career fields. Most government positions have detailed job descriptions that specify a required minimum level of education and/or experience to qualify for the job, but higher education degrees may be accepted in lieu of experience.

Kathy Foley, USAG Schinnen's workforce development coordinator, thinks this is one of the main reasons civilian employees should pursue higher education.

"It's sometimes the only way you stand a fighting chance against others with many more years of experience," she said.

"To stay competitive in today's workforce, you've got to be able to switch gears and be versatile," Foley said, citing one of the Army's strategic initiatives to create an agile, mobile workforce.

"I can't think of anything that meets the Army's strategic goals better than civilians who accomplish Army training and a higher degree program," she said.

Foley and Johnston both point to various master's programs specifically designed for military and government employees in Europe. Almost every stateside college or university now has a distance-learning program accessible to those living in Europe. Many institutions even offer a hybrid arrangement, meaning some classes are taught online and others are taught in person at military education centers around Europe.

The Army was an early pioneer in the field of distance education, recognizing that training delivered through online communications offered endless potential for Soldiers in remote or austere environments.

In 2001, the Army launched the largest distance learning program ever established by the U.S. government, which evolved into the popular GoArmyEd site used extensively throughout the Army today.

"It created a level of accessibility that was unheard of a decade ago, which has raised expectations for higher education across the board," Johnston explained. "The benefit to civilians is that classes are designed to support Soldiers - meaning flexible schedules, distance learning, online access, etc. These benefits dove tail nicely with what many federal employees also want and need in a higher education program."

To take full advantage of every training opportunity, civilians should incorporate their higher education goals into their Individual Development Plans and coordinate their progress through their local Workforce Development Coordinators. "It's important to get your supervisor's buy-in if you're going to be using the Army's training time to pursue your higher education goals," Foley advised, "and the formal way of doing this is to document everything on your IDP."

"There's really no excuse for not getting your master's if it's something you want as a government employee," Foley said. "The Army is very generous with training time for Soldiers and civilians because any training you do benefits not only you but also the Army," Foley said.