Possessing a college degree in California is more valuable than ever.

It often indicates whether someone has a stable job and if their employer offers paid vacation or health benefits. For many, the degree is the difference between poverty and the middle class. And its value, since at least 2000, has only increased year after year, according to a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

There is a $44,000 yearly earnings difference between people who have college degrees versus a high school diploma, researchers concluded in a report released Monday. Yet, a significant number of Californians are not finishing college.

Employers are already facing a shortage of highly educated workers, said Hans Johnson, a higher education researcher who co-authored the report. Those jobs are plenty, but often exclude less-qualified workers who don’t have college degrees.