Wage analysis shows a degree from this university system is worth a “$500,000 check”

The study found undergraduates' lifetime earnings to exceed that of non-college students by about $572,000 for a total of $1.2 million. 

Despite the growing public skepticism of a college degree and its return on investment (ROI), the University of North Carolina system discovered that students with an undergraduate degree make $500,000 or more over their lifetimes than North Carolinians without one, a study found.

The North Carolina General Assembly collected researchers and consultants from Deloitte, the rpk Group and The Burning Glass Institute to estimate the ROI for 724 undergraduate programs and 575 graduate programs across the UNC System between 2015 and 2020. They calculated the ROI by calculating the lifetime wages of in-state graduates minus the costs of college.

The study found undergraduates’ lifetime earnings to exceed that of non-college students by about $572,000 for a total of $1.2 million.

“The way to essentially interpret it is, the instant you graduate from that program, it’s like I wrote you a check for $500,000,” said Peter Fritz, the higher education analytics expert from Deloitte, according to The 74.

More than 90% of the UNC System’s undergraduate and graduate programs reap a positive ROI for graduates, and nearly 90% of low-income students experienced upward economic mobility, the study found.

“This data demonstrates that by removing barriers to access, the State of North Carolina and the UNC System have ensured that students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds have a high likelihood of upward economic mobility if they complete a degree,” the report reads.

North Carolinians with graduate degrees experienced an even more impressive ROI. Those with the postgraduate credential gained $930,000 more over a lifetime than those without, totaling $2.1 million. However, undergraduate students who studied in STEM fields experienced a similar level of financial advancement. Degrees in biotechnology raise their median lifetime return to more than $3.2 million.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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