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|Friday, April 04, 2014|
BY ERIC FRUITS
College is expensive and it’s getting more expensive every year. Over the past five years, according to the College Board, in-state tuition and fees at Oregon’s public universities has increased 30 percent, while private institutions have seen a 19 percent increase. Over the same period, average student debt in the U.S. has increased 31 percent to more than $27,000.
The rapidly rising cost of higher education has left even the smartest researchers and the wonkiest of wonks wondering what’s happening and where’s all that money going. More and more, prospective students—and their families—are asking: Is college worth the cost?
Over the past few years, the salary comparison website Payscale.com has collected salary data from its users and ranked U.S. colleges and universities based on which schools deliver the best bang for the buck, measured by Payscale’s calculation of the net return on investment (ROI). They measure ROI as the difference between a typical graduate’s earnings over 20 years and subtract out the cost of attending the school. The data are far from perfect, but there are enough data points to make some broad generalizations.
The figure above turns Payscale’s rankings into a scatterplot. The green dots represent in-state tuition and fees for Oregon public universities, excluding Portland State University. The red squares represent Oregon’s private colleges and universities.
Two things stand out:
While Payscale accounts for the variation in the time it takes a student to complete a degree across institutions, it misses some key costs of higher education. For example, the typical student graduates with about $27,000 of debt. Interest payments on this debt reduce take-home pay and reduce the return on investment for higher education. More importantly, Payscale misses the fact that, in most cases, full-time students give up full-time employment. In addition to spending money on tuition and fees, student are giving up money from four or more years of employment.
The figure above adds some very back-of-the-envelope estimates to account for interest payments on student debt and the opportunity cost giving up employment while in school. It assumes the average amount of debt and that a student would give up full time work at the federal minimum wage. Yes, I know that’s not very realistic, but it’s pretty conservative and you’ll get the idea.
As with the ROI scatterplot, the dots are all over the place. In fact, there is hardly any relationship between the opportunity cost of higher education and future earnings.
What is most striking, however, is how small the net benefits are—even for students paying in-state tuition. Students at Southern Oregon University and Western Oregon University just about break even on their college educations. If it took them a little longer than average to graduate, or if they incurred a bit more student debt, these students would have been better off skipping college altogether.
Keep in mind that the data presented here looks only at the “average” student. The benefits and costs of education are unique to every individual. Having the right test scores, choosing the right major, and having a supportive network of family and peers can make huge differences in the payoff to higher education.
Nevertheless, a look at previous Payscale studies shows that over the past few years, the return on investment in higher education is declining. Students seem to be paying more, but getting less. Research suggest new administrative positions—particularly in student services—have driven a 28 percent growth in the higher-ed work force from 2000 to 2012. At the same time, universities have shifted to a growing army of part-time instructors and full time faculty salaries have barely kept pace with inflation. The result is a set of institutions that have shifted their focus away from research, education, and training and more toward providing social services to employees and students.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this trend ending soon. It will take a major student debt crisis for policy makers and educational institutions to refocus their direction away from growing the university bureaucracy and back to providing an education that is valuable to students and employers.
Eric Fruits blogs on economics and finance for Oregon Business.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE
The black soldier fly’s larvae are among the most ravenous and least picky eaters on earth.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
A Design Week panel discussion raises questions about how innovative we really are.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
Cylvia Hayes, tabloid vs. watchdog journalism and the looming threat of a Cascadia earthquake.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Oregon Business magazine has named the sixth annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JON BELL
Oregon tribes still bet on casinos.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
BY DIANE BUISMAN
Some common misconceptions employers have about marijuana.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
BY JONATHAN FROCHTZWAJG
A flare-up in the Elliott Forest raises questions about détente in Oregon’s timber wars.
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|Woman of Steel|
|Kill the Meeting|
Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
Plenty of employers seem “dazed and confused” after the recent vote to legalize marijuana. In light of Measure 91 passing, what are some issues for private-sector Oregon employers to consider?
Rotary’s Oregon Ethics in Business aims to raise consciousness about business ethics by honoring exceptional companies.
Barran Liebman’s annual employment law seminar is an industry classic.
Is my drug-free workplace policy up in smoke?
More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.