Crunching the Numbers
With the cost of a college education going up, and the market for many jobs going down, there’s been an increased tendency in recent years to talk about higher education in terms of “Return on Investment.”
Students and their families want to know that the money they spend – or pay back later with interest – will be worth it in the long run, and they look to a number of sources for guidance.
PayScale.com puts out an annual College ROI Report, and the Chronicle of Higher Education has created CollegeRealityCheck.com. Even the government has started getting in on the act: The U.S. Department of Education launched an Interactive College Scorecard in 2013 in response to President Obama’s call for a guide that tells students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”
These and other sources take various approaches to calculating and comparing the ROI of colleges, looking at considerations such as cost, graduation rates, typical years to completion, average amount borrowed, earnings potential, and more. Results can often be filtered by public or private schools, region, type of school, degree programs, in-state or out-of-state tuition rates, and aggregate costs with or without financial aid.
To determine the ultimate dollars and cents value of a college education, PayScale.com even factors in the income high school graduates might forfeit during their college years. On the other hand, their methodology looks only at the hourly or salaried income of bachelor’s degree recipients, not at the earnings of students who go on to earn advanced degrees or become entrepreneurs.
Of course, a college education has intrinsic worth that individuals and society can’t put a price on – few would dispute that.
And while Georgia Tech boasts a top-ranked ROI by almost any measure [see graphic], return on investment is just one factor students should consider in deciding where to apply, says Rick Clark, Georgia Tech’s director of Undergraduate Admission.
“Tech is recruiting students who we feel are capable of and committed to improving the human condition through science and technology – even in our business and liberal arts programs,” he says. “That may translate into an impressive salary after graduation, but our focus is on helping students create lives filled with meaning and promise – that’s why we want them to choose Georgia Tech.”
Writer: Margaret Tate
Graphics: Rhys Black