With college cost continuing to rise, students and families want to know the return on investment for investing in higher ed. Last month, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) released, “A First Try at ROI,” a thorough report that aims to answer just that.

In it, CEW calculates the Return on Investment (ROI) for a student attending any particular higher ed institution in the entire U.S. They did this using the federal government’s College Scorecard data, and calculating the 10-year and 40-year Net Present Value for more than 4,500 institutions in the U.S.

I took a look at how New Hampshire’s institutions stacked up against the national trends, and I was surprised by what the data show.

Community Colleges Have The Highest Short-Term ROI

CEW finds nationally that community colleges have the highest short-term ROI, measured here as 10-year Net Present Value.* In New Hampshire, this finding definitely holds.

10-year net present value for NH's higher ed institutions.
Author’s analysis of CEW data.

The three Associate’s degree institutions included in the Georgetown study (colored grey) have a 10-year NPV that hovers around $160K. But look at the 13 Bachelor’s degree institutions (colored blue). Most of them come nowhere near that figure!

And interestingly, two Bachelor’s institutions have negative 10-year NPV values.

4-Year Higher Ed in NH Bucks the National Trend…

Where things get interesting is when we look at the 40-year Net Present Value figures for New Hampshire institutions.

The Georgetown study finds that nationally the institutions with the highest long-term net economic gains are Bachelor’s degree institutions.

But in New Hampshire, this holds only for about half of the 13 Bachelor’s degree institutions.

Seven of the 13 have 40-Year NPVs greater than that of the lowest Associate’s degree institution ($844K). But 6 of the 13 Bachelor’s degree institutions have 40-year NPVs that are lower than the lowest Associate’s granting institution’s NPV.

40-Year net present value of higher ed institutions in NH
Author’s analysis of CEW data.

Here’s a slightly different view of the same data, without the separation of institutions by Associate’s vs. Bachelor’s:

40-Year net present value of higher ed institutions in NH
Author’s analysis of CEW data.

…But Is That Such A Good Thing?

This finding raises more questions than it answers.

  • Is the unique New Hampshire ecology of businesses part of the explanation?
  • What kinds of jobs do Associate’s degree graduates have to earn salaries that are on par with those of Bachelor’s degree graduates?
  • And, are we as a state doing enough to support our community colleges, much less higher ed overall?

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