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Buyer Beware: Examining Earnings by Degree and College Debt

The latest research report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, Buyer Beware – First-Year Earnings and Debt for 37,000 College Majors at 4,400 Institutions was issued this week. Authors and researchers Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, Martin Van Der Werf, and Artem Gulish continue their analysis of the continually expanding data provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard that arguable began with their 2019 report, A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges.

Are Elite Colleges Worth the High Price of Attendance?

In a recent opinion piece published in USA Today, Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, questions the value of attending a selective college if you’re watching online lectures from your parents’ home. Dr. Hess writes that many elite colleges market the irreplaceable experiences of living on campus and if campuses are closed in the fall, those experiences and the reasons for attending go away.

Graduate Degrees – Worth the Time and Expense?

Not a day goes by where we don’t hear about the shortage of workers with the required education and training for more than six million unfilled positions in the U.S. Early in his presidency, Barack Obama called for increasing the number of Americans earning a college degree to maintain global competitiveness in an era with increasing technology innovations, some used to replace jobs in the workforce. Despite all the attention on higher education attainment, overall enrollments have decreased since 2010, with explanations ranging from a declining birth rate and low unemployment rates to an increasing perception that degrees may not provide the same return on investment for today’s students as for Baby Boomers and their parents.

Fixing Law Schools

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education Review, University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton authored an article, The Law School Crash, subtitled “What’s worse than a decade of financial turmoil? Not learning from it.” Barton’s news isn’t new. In fact, he mentions Brian Tamanaha’s 2012 book, Failing Law Schools, as an early critique of the disparity between the cost of law school and career and salary outcomes.

New Year’s Announcement: Free Tuition For Four Years – With a Catch

Among my newsfeeds over the holidays was one from the Lexington, KY Herald Leader about an announcement from Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY about a new four-year, tuition-free scholarship for local graduating high school students. The offer applies to students admitted over the next decade and requires they live on campus all four years and pay for room and board, approximating $12,000 annually.

Which College Graduates Make the Most?

On November 20, 2019, the Department of Education released its long-awaited update to the College Scorecard, revealing median debt, earnings and other data for graduates of specific programs of the represented schools. The Wall Street Journal was given an exclusive look at the data before publication, and provides some comparisons of the data among schools and a handy tool for sorting the dataset by school, degree level and degree type to show the median debt for graduates and median income level the first year after graduating. 

Reviewing the Methodology Behind New ROI Rankings for 4,500 Colleges

 

I am no fan of the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, primarily because it is incomplete and may be misleading for some metrics. Much of the data is derived from students using Federal Student Aid (FSA) only and some of it is from those who are first-time, full-time students using FSA loans. At APUS, most of our students are part-time, working adults not using FSA to fund their education. I first wrote about the Scorecard in 2016 and reported about others like me who criticized its incomplete data.

Despite the flaws of the Scorecard, I understand why Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently attempted to create a return on investment (ROI) for all colleges using this data. First, it’s the only published source that uses IRS data to match earnings with students who have attended those specific institutions and who received FSA. With access to earnings, institutional costs and debt incurred, the researchers can calculate a rudimentary ROI.

A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges

Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce issued a report ranking the ROI of all 4,500 colleges and universities listed in the College Scorecard.

Included among the researchers’ notable findings:

  • Community college and many certificate programs have the highest ROI in the short term (10 years).
  • Colleges that primarily award bachelor’s degrees have the highest ROI in the long term (40 years).
  • Public colleges have higher ROI than private colleges in the short term.
  • Degrees from private nonprofit colleges generally have a higher ROI in the long term than public universities.