Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

College: 'Best Investment' or Big Risk? (The financial return for a 4-year degree may surprise you)
Smart Money ^ | 05/07/2012 | Jack Hough

Posted on 05/07/2012 2:35:03 PM PDT by SeekAndFind


College is the best investment you can make, President Obama told students last month at the University of Colorado.

As a metaphor for the benefits of education, that statement is fine. But taken as a claim about the financial returns of a college degree, it poses two problems.

The first is that students and their families still lack sufficient data to estimate long-term returns for specific college degrees the way investors do with stocks and bonds.

The second problem is one of investment risk. Stock investors can manage risk by buying a diverse basket of shares, but a college student bets on a single asset: himself.

That makes it crucial that students and their families understand the factors that affect the risk and return of a college investment in order to swing the math in their favor.

College brings higher pay: $1,053 a week for the median bachelor's degree holder last year, versus $638 for a high school graduate with no college, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year's unemployment rate was 4.9% for college grads versus 9.4% for those with no college.

The College Board, a not-for-profit association, calculated in a 2010 report (based on 2008 data) that a typical student who enters a four-year college at age 18 and borrows his way through earns enough by age 33 to make up for his costs, including foregone wages and loan interest.

If a bond paid for itself that quickly, the return would be between 5% and 6% a year. That's a handsome payoff; stocks have historically returned around 7% a year after inflation. And it says nothing of college's other benefits, such as enlightenment, fun and higher job satisfaction.

Two big caveats: The College Board math assumes everyone goes to a public college. Those usually cost less than private ones -- often a lot less -- and that skews returns higher. The report also doesn't account for dropouts or extra college years. Only 56% of students who enroll in a four-year college earn a bachelor's degree within six years, according to a report last year by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

PayScale, a Seattle data firm, examines the links between pay and variables like colleges and majors. Its analysis, which also ignores dropouts but accounts for students who take longer to complete their degrees, finds an average yearly return of 4.4% for degrees from 853 schools. That assumes students get financial aid, as most do.

Returns vary sharply; they are negative for more than 100 schools and over 11% a year for ones like Harvey Mudd College in California, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Virginia. Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton are over 10%, but so is Queens College in New York -- where state residents pay just over $5,000 a year in tuition, versus about $41,000 for Stanford.

The worst returns tend to come from schools whose programs focus on nursing, criminal justice, sociology and education, says Katie Bardaro, an analyst at PayScale. The best returns are often from schools with strong engineering, computer science, economics and natural-science programs.

There's a flip side: "It's a lot harder to successfully graduate from those engineering programs," says Ms. Bardaro.

PayScale's analysis doesn't show how a specific degree from one school compares with that same degree from another school. "Until we know that, students, school counselors and policy makers are flying blind," says Mark Schneider, former U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics and vice president of American Institutes for Research, a think tank.

Mr. Schneider set up a data firm, College Measures, to collect such data, and hopes to report his findings later this year. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education is set to release "gainful employment" data as soon as this coming week, including loan-repayment rates and debt-to-income ratios. The information is meant to show which schools are putting federal aid to good use, but it will also provide clues to returns.

Until we can predict college returns more accurately, students and their families should think in terms of reducing investment risk, says Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington-based advocacy group. After all, outstanding student loans now eclipse total credit-card debt, and even bankruptcy filers don't typically get out from under their school loans.

Start with a frank assessment of performance. High school students with high grades and excellent test scores are likely to go to good schools and earn high returns on their investment, says Mr. Vedder. Middling performers can reduce risk by going to low-cost state and community colleges, perhaps transferring to another school after two years if they do well.

For that matter, anything that cuts college costs reduces investment risk, says Jennifer Ma, a College Board analyst. Living at home for the first two years of school won't do wonders for a student's social life, but it's likely to boost his returns.

Mr. Schneider says students should compare net college costs after projected aid. (They can approximate net costs using the government's College Navigator tool, The riskiest investment is a high-cost liberal-arts college that lacks a strong brand name and doesn't offer much aid, says Mr. Schneider. By contrast, a high-cost school with a strong brand and plenty of aid may be a "good buy."

PayScale's Ms. Bardaro says students should research carefully the pay they are likely to secure before deciding how much to spend on college. After all, tuition and fees have increased 184% in 20 years after accounting for inflation, but wages for college grads have risen just 9%, according to Labor Department data.

Mr. Obama's investment tip is well-intentioned, but in college as on Wall Street, returns aren't guaranteed. —Jack Hough is a columnist at Email:

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: college; investment; risk
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-60 next last
To: SeekAndFind

Bachelors $1,053 a week. What crack is this author smoking. Ill be lucky to get that for an MBA when I graduate. I have 20 years employment history..

21 posted on 05/07/2012 4:07:43 PM PDT by goseminoles
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: OldPossum
These ignorant statements assume that everyone off the street can handle an engineering curriculum and that just ain’t so.

When I was in high school quite some time ago the guidance counselors would identify the students that they didn't feel were college-bound and point them in the direction of a trade school. These students would go to regular high school for the first half of the day and then spend the second half at what we called "vocational tech" learning skills such as auto mechanics, welding, plumbing, etc. Many of these students were able to make good money right out of high school.

For some reason, schools have done away with "vo-techs". I think the conventional wisdom is that all kids should aspire to go to college and many of the trades that were taught were geared towards males. Can't have that!

22 posted on 05/07/2012 4:09:49 PM PDT by Drew68 (I WILL vote to defeat Barack Hussein Obama!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: luckystarmom

MOVE and by God don’t bring any California with you.

North Dakota, Wyoming and even parts of Idaho BOOMING

We have plenty of Californians in Texas ... pretty sure we have reached our quota


23 posted on 05/07/2012 4:12:08 PM PDT by TexasTransplant (Radical islam is islam. Moderate islam is the Trojan Horse.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Drew68
I feel bad when I think of what the vo-tech students were doing. I thought they were the "dummies" in HS, only aspiring to be plumbers, electricians, carpenters, auto mechanics, etc.

Who's the "dummy" now? Me. I stupidly went into medicine. I make about what a master plumber makes. And if he owns his own business, he's doing very well.

He's not going to get sued by a disgruntled patient/client.

And if a customer doesn't "feel" like paying him for his work, he can tear out the sink he just installed.

24 posted on 05/07/2012 4:18:04 PM PDT by boop (I hate hippies and dopeheads. Just hate them. ...Ernest Borgnine)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: dhs12345

“If it does, then I have been “studying” Women all of my life and I still don’t understand them and I have spent a fortune trying to. :)”

It’s easy. Women want what they don’t want, except when they change their mind.

25 posted on 05/07/2012 4:23:36 PM PDT by pieceofthepuzzle
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: 2ndDivisionVet

Salesman is a dirty word to a lot of people but they are the people that drive the economy. I forget which sales/business guru first coined the phrase but we all live by it “Nothing happens until first the sale.” I consult with a lot of people doing startups and 9 times out of 10 all my advice is on sales and marketing because so many people with great ideas, great products, really innovative and killer business can’t sell and so nothing ever happens. When I talked to you young people about jobs, careers, college etc I always point out that if money and job security are most important to you then you should learn to sell. Good salesmen out earn the management, the engineers, and all the other workers in most industries. Here’s a fun a example that shows what most people don’t understand about where the money is in jobs. - I know 5 guys in the orthopedic business. One is an engineer. He has 5 years of college, works 50 hours a week and makes 55k. One is a machinist. He has no college, works 50 hours a week and makes 75k. One has an MBA and works in HR at the same firm as the first two and makes $45k. One is an Orthopedic surgeon. He has 11 years of school/residency. He works 50 hours a week and is on call another 24 hours. He makes $220K. THe last guy is an independent sales rep for the orthopedic products the other four guys deal with. He works 40 hours a week, half of it in tropical places with his clients and he make $350k.

26 posted on 05/07/2012 5:05:19 PM PDT by azcap (Who is John Galt ?
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: TexasTransplant

We want to, but we want to wait a few years. Our daughters have medical issues, and we want them to finish up high school here. Plus, my husband was recently diagnosed with cancer.

We’re hoping to move out in 3 years.

27 posted on 05/07/2012 5:07:07 PM PDT by luckystarmom
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: Drew68

Yes, I can remember the same thing at the high school I attended. There, they divided the students into two categories, one “college preparatory” and the other not that (I don’t remember the term they used). Again, the males in the latter category were often guided into voc training.

28 posted on 05/07/2012 5:16:17 PM PDT by OldPossum
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: SeekAndFind

College degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on unless it’s a specific professional degree. And even then, it’s suspect. I hire attitude and work ethic, degrees dont mean sh!t anymore. Sad but true, most kids have zero work ethic. It’s refreshing on the rare occasion that you find it though.

29 posted on 05/07/2012 5:19:58 PM PDT by Paco
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: TexasTransplant
We have plenty of Californians in Texas ... pretty sure we have reached our quota

There is plenty of room in Texas for more. I fact, I'm hoping at least 5 million more go there.

30 posted on 05/07/2012 5:20:09 PM PDT by dragnet2 (Diversion and evasion are tools of deceit)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 23 | View Replies]

To: beef

Nice joke, but I wonder whether you might be an engineer making fun of those who didn’t major in one of the engineering studies.

If only everyone majored in engineering, huh? All they had to do was switch majors...

31 posted on 05/07/2012 5:22:11 PM PDT by OldPossum
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: beef
If it was easy, everyone would do it would not pay so much. What’s ignorant about that?

You missed the point I was trying to make. It's beyond engineering just being more difficult. Handling the math involved in all the engineering studies is simply beyond the capabilities of most students. Some Freeper, quoting a professor, said that only 15 percent of students could handle the math. So, what the hell do you want the other 85 percent to do?

32 posted on 05/07/2012 5:26:24 PM PDT by OldPossum
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: boop

As it happens my son in law is a plumber and I am related to two physicians. My son in law earned about 80k last year, the Dr’s a multiple of that.

Now it is nice to have some quick MD advice and a prescription called in, but when something serious happens, like a broken water pipe, you know who I call.

The best is they all work steady and enjoy their work.

33 posted on 05/07/2012 5:28:15 PM PDT by DUMBGRUNT (The best is the enemy of the good!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: azcap

“Salesman is a dirty word to a lot of people but they are the people that drive the economy.”

Ain’t that the truth! I am an engineer at the top of my game, did consulting for 15+ years, and found the truth in business the hard way. Those “business weenies”, as I used to call them, make the money. A great engineer can make a product and earn millions, billions even, but on whole it is the sales people that can earn the big bucks.

34 posted on 05/07/2012 5:29:54 PM PDT by CodeToad
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

To: MNDude
I’m just about to graduate with a major on Women’s Studies? Does anyone know what kind of ROI I might get for this degree?

I studied women in college too.

35 posted on 05/07/2012 5:33:29 PM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]


The Place for Conservatives
We have some elections to win!

36 posted on 05/07/2012 5:35:12 PM PDT by RedMDer (
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: scottteng

“the RN is a good back up just in case”

The RN requires upkeep, too. You can’t just enter the workplace again after being out for years.

37 posted on 05/07/2012 5:41:28 PM PDT by webstersII
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: Psycho_Bunny
I’m a high school drop-out but have worked my way into a $100K a year job. But that took a lot of work and self-starting.

I have worked with a lot of talented people like you who did not have degrees. They really pay for it in a corporate environment.

38 posted on 05/07/2012 5:55:25 PM PDT by Doe Eyes
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: SVTCobra03

Many of us went to school for lucrative degrees; once you can command $50K forces are at work to either send the work elsewhere (which wouldn’t apply in the oil patch) or simply bring foreigners in to do it (even if they are educated here as part of the package). In any case, what happened in tech and finance is surely at work in other high-wage jobs; Asians are being trained to do the work for a lot less, often in American universities. I work with one of the larger CPA firms, and of the four people I deal with the partner is the only American. One is Indian, one is Filipino (he said he was recruited from the Philippines for $65K, with no CPA and limited English - better-qualified Americans would kill for that job), and the last is a Canadian national who said the process took her five years to work here. All three of these foreigners took jobs for which there is no shortage of qualified Americans, and their company is probably looking for ways to replace them as soon as they become full citizens and want such things as sick days and Sundays off.

It is frightening; I couldn’t imagine what decisions a fifteen year-old faces today.

39 posted on 05/07/2012 6:02:08 PM PDT by kearnyirish2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: luckystarmom

Would your son like robots? Would he be interested in AI? There is alot of math and probabilities involved in these areas.

I have recently been doing some online learning, for free, from this site: They are on their second six week list of courses and it is interesting and demanding.

They even have a cryptography class. I just took the Cs101 basic programing class in Python. If not for your son, maybe for you.

There are other free online learning places on the net.
Look into it. It could be a way to update your skills.

And prayers for your husband.

40 posted on 05/07/2012 6:04:19 PM PDT by TruthConquers (Delendae sunt publicae scholae)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 20 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-60 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson