The product of higher education is widely embraced in the United States: 20 million students attend our 3000 schools of higher learning.
Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a college grad can expect to earn 1.7-2.7 times the lifetime income of a student who finished high school and entered the workforce.
A college degree provides higher employment security: in 2012, the unemployment rate for college grads was 4.5% versus 8.3% for those with high school diplomas.
Colleges play a key role in our local communities—for economic development, workforce development and as a major employer.
And a recent Pew Research survey (February, 2014) found 9 of 10 with college degrees believe the investment has or will pay off.
Higher education does not have a value problem: its value proposition against the option of not getting a degree is solid.
But higher education has a relative value problem.
Since 1985, the price of higher education has increased 538% versus medical costs (+286%) and the consumer price index (+121%).
Stated differently, annual tuition increases have been 7.4%–more than healthcare (5.8%) housing (4.3%) and family income (3.8%). Last year, students and families paid $154 billion in tuition and fees to attend college: 60% borrowed $106 billion to help pay their bill.
In the end, 38% enrolled in four-year degree programs and 21% in two-year degree programs will not graduate on time. One in seven with student loan debt will be delinquent on their debt, and student loan indebtedness, now at $1 trillion, will shortcut household discretionary spending that might otherwise be injected in our economy. And incomes for college grads have stagnated for the past 12 years.
The perplexing question facing higher education is this: does a college degree pay? And more precisely, what is relative value of each institution’s offering given alternatives?