Report Helps Answer the Question: Is a College Degree Worth the Cost?

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Report Helps Answer the Question: Is a College Degree Worth the Cost?


Most people attend college to improve their financial prospects, although attending a post-secondary institution also offers other benefits. But as the average cost of a four-year degree has risen to six figures, even at public universities, it can be difficult to know whether the money is well spent.

A new analysis from HEA Group, a research and consulting firm focused on college access and success, may help answer the question for students and their families. The study compares the average income of former college students ten years after they enroll with basic income benchmarks.

The analysis found that the majority of colleges provide beyond the economic minimums for their graduates, such as a typical annual income higher than that of a high school graduate without a college education ($32,000, according to federal scorecard data).

Still, more than 1,000 schools missed that threshold, even though many of them were for-profit colleges that focused on short-term credentials rather than traditional four-year degrees.

Michael Itzkowitz, founder and president of HEA Group, said checking whether a college’s alumni earn a “reasonable” income can help people weigh whether they want to cross some institutions off their list. For example, someone choosing between similar colleges may see the institution that produces significantly higher-income students.

While income isn’t necessarily the only criterion to consider when comparing schools, Mr. Itzkowitz said, “It’s a very good starting point.”

The report used data from the Department of Education’s College Scorecard to assess the earnings of about five million former students who attended about 3,900 colleges 10 years after they first enrolled. (The analysis includes data for people who did not complete college.) The report includes both public colleges and private nonprofit and for-profit schools; Schools can offer non-degree certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees.

The analysis found that schools whose students earned less than their peers who had never attended college were generally those that offered non-degree certificates, which can often be completed in 18 months or less, and for-profit institutions, although the List also includes some public and public institutions private non-profit schools. At 71 percent of nonprofit schools, the majority of students earned less than high school graduates 10 years after enrollment, compared with 14 percent of public institutions and 9 percent of private nonprofit schools, Itzkowitz said.

“Going to college is indeed worth it,” Mr. Itzkowitz said, but paying for it can be “significantly riskier,” depending on the type of school you attend or the degree you pursue.

(Another report found that former students of for-profit colleges tend to face greater financial risk than those who attended similarly selective public colleges. These risks include having to take on more debt for higher education, a greater likelihood, defaulting on student loans, and a lower likelihood of finding a job.)

Jason Altmire, president and chief executive of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade group that represents for-profit professional colleges, said it makes no sense to lump together schools that offer primarily short-term certificate programs with colleges that offer four-year degrees . People who want to work in certain professions — for example, as a hairdresser — typically can’t work in that field unless they earn a degree, he said.

Mr. Altmire also said that for-profit certificate schools’ earnings data may have been skewed by “gender bias” because the programs had a higher proportion of women who were more likely than men to work part-time while raising their families, lowering a school’s stated rate Average income.

The HEA report also compared colleges’ performance to other benchmarks, such as the federal poverty level ($15,000 annual income for an individual), which is used to determine eligibility for benefits for government programs such as subsidized health insurance and Medicaid. Earnings at the “vast majority” of colleges exceeded that threshold, the report said, although 18 – nearly all of them for-profit schools that offer non-degree certificate programs in beauty or hairstyling – had students whose average income was below that threshold .

Majors are also important, as majors in science, technology, engineering, and nursing typically result in significantly higher salaries than majors in the arts or humanities. (Last year, the HEA released a separate analysis of the college majors that pay the most.)

When comparing post-college earnings, students and families shouldn’t view the data in a vacuum, said Kristina Dooley, a certified education planner in Hudson, Ohio. Many schools where former students become top earners offer programs that focus on health sciences, technology, or business, but that may not be what you want to study.

“Use it as a single piece of information,” Ms. Dooley said.

She said students shouldn’t rule out college just because it’s not at the top of the income list. However, ask questions – for example, whether the Career Services office will help arrange internships and make alumni contacts to help you find a well-paying job.

Amy S. Jasper, an independent education consultant in Richmond, Virginia, said postgraduate income may be more important for students and families who had to take out loans for college. “How much debt do you want to take on?” she said. “That’s something that needs to be taken into consideration.”

But, she said, the benefits of college aren’t just financial. “I believe that choosing the right school is also about becoming a better person and contributing to the world.”

Here you will find some questions and answers about study costs:

Prominent names such as most Ivy League schools, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are featured heavily in the HEA analysis. Their students had an average income of at least $90,000 a decade after enrollment. (There are also a handful of for-profit schools that focus on careers like nursing and digital manufacturing.) But the highest-grossing colleges on the list? Samuel Merritt University, a nursing and health sciences school in Oakland, California, and the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, each with incomes over $129,000. You can view the data on the HEA website.

The average estimated “sticker” price for college—the published costs of tuition, housing, meals, books and supplies, transportation, and personal items—ranges from about $19,000 per year at a two-year community college to about $28,000 -Dollars for students. According to 2022-23 data from the College Board, the price for in-state students at a public four-year university rises to nearly $58,000 at a four-year private college. However, some students may pay much less because of financial aid.

A federal “gainful employment” rule aimed at making career programs more accountable is set to take effect in July. The new rule, which primarily affects for-profit schools but also applies to certificate programs at all types of colleges, requires schools to demonstrate that at least half of their graduates earn more than a typical high school graduate in their state and that Their graduates have done so with affordable student loan payments. Colleges that miss either benchmark must alert their students that the school may lose access to federal financial aid. Schools that fail to meet the same standard twice within three years are not eligible for federal aid programs.



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2024-03-01 14:00:10

www.nytimes.com