GREENSBORO (November 16, 2023) – If there’s any doubt about the value of a UNC System degree, a new study shows an incredible return on that investment.
The $2 million study by Deloitte – ordered by the NC General Assembly in 2021 – found that out of 1,299 programs across the UNC System, 93% had a positive return on investment for graduates.1
“In plain English, that means we’re keeping our promise to the students of North Carolina,” UNC System President Peter Hans told university trustees Wednesday.
“Come to a UNC System school to study, graduate on time, and you’re almost guaranteed to leave with broader opportunities and greater ability to support a family,” he said.2
After subtracting the cost of earning a degree, the study found a median return on investment of:
- $500,000 over their careers for students who earn undergraduate degrees, compared to North Carolinians without undergraduate degrees; and
- $938,000 over their careers for those who complete graduate degrees, compared to North Carolinians without graduate degrees.3
Though as many as 70% of students view college as a risky investment, Peter Fritz of Deloitte told a UNC Board of Governors committee Wednesday that the study found nearly 90% of UNC System graduates from low-income households see upward economic mobility.
“We are, over time, elevating them out of poverty, helping them do better for themselves, for their families,” Fritz said.
“Given the huge population of low-income and first-generation students we serve,” said Hans, “that’s an especially important part of our mission. As a first-generation college graduate, I take pride in that fact and I hope you do, too.”
For every dollar the state invests, the study found, there is a $23 return to graduates.
“That’s a pretty darn good ROI, by any measure,” Fritz said.
“The instant you graduate from that program, it’s like we wrote you a check for $500,000,” he said.
He added that if that additional income allows a graduate to buy a larger home, local governments benefit from greater property-tax revenue.
Majors in computer science, engineering and health professions showed the greatest earnings, as expected. But even teachers and English majors see a positive return on investment, the 80-page study found.4
Fritz said cost reductions might be warranted for students in fields with a low return but high workforce demand.
Most UNC graduates, in fact, aren’t working in a field that’s directly related to their major, the study found.
“That’s a sign of success, rather than a shortcoming,” said Hans. “A college education should be flexible, should be adaptable, and should hold its value across a lifetime of job changes and career transitions.”
Rather than order cancellation of programs with a low ROI, the Board of Governors’ transmittal letter to the legislature recommends that campuses develop those programs to improve outcomes for students.
Though the findings might suggest elimination of some programs, “Our decisions are not solely data-driven,” said UNC Greensboro Chancellor Frank Gilliam. “We may think that it comports with our values as an institution, and we need to subsidize it.”
AMONG OTHER findings and actions:
- Enrollment up: After a slight decline in enrollment in Fall 2022, the UNC System saw student enrollment increase in Fall 2023 to 242,518, an increase of 2,855 students or 1.19%.5
- $4.1 million penalty for UNCW: The Board voted to impose a $4.1 million penalty on UNC Wilmington for exceeding its 18% cap on out-of-state enrollment for two consecutive years. But board members Joel Ford, Woody White and Swadesh Chatterjee said the cap needs to be revisited. With Toyota, VinFast and other global employers opening operations in the state, “Things have changed drastically in the last 20 years,” said Chatterjee.
5 https://www.northcarolina.edu/apps/bog/doc.php?id=67662&code=bog, pp. 27-36.