A comprehensive study of academic degree programs across North Carolina’s public universities reveals that investing in a degree from the UNC System overwhelmingly pays off in future earnings for graduates. At a time when skepticism about the value of a college degree is growing nationally, the study showcases that a typical degree from a UNC System university not only constitutes an affordable investment but also holds substantial value in the job market, resulting in significant positive returns for graduates.
The study, commissioned and funded by the General Assembly and conducted by Deloitte, assessed the return on investment for 724 undergraduate programs and 575 graduate programs across the UNC System. Contrary to the prevailing skepticism, the results indicate that a college diploma from a public university in North Carolina is indeed worth the investment, yielding positive returns across a broad spectrum of degree programs—from engineering to education to health sciences to the humanities.
According to the study, the median lifetime earnings of UNC System bachelor’s degree graduates amount to $1.2 million, surpassing the lifetime earnings of North Carolinians without degrees by approximately $572,000. Even after factoring in the cost of earning a degree, the median overall return on investment stands at $500,000 for UNC System undergraduates who complete degrees, compared to their counterparts without undergraduate degrees.
For those pursuing graduate degrees, the median lifetime earnings soar to $2.1 million, approximately $1 million more than individuals holding only a bachelor’s degree. After accounting for costs, the median lifetime return on investment for those completing graduate degrees in the UNC System is $938,000, outshining North Carolinians without graduate degrees.
UNC System President Peter Hans emphasized the role of public education as an engine of opportunity, stating, “This study shows without a doubt that students are getting good value for their money — and so are the taxpayers of North Carolina. Our graduates are filling vital positions in the workforce and contributing every day to a vibrant economy.”
Key findings from the study include:
- 94 percent of undergraduate degree programs yield a positive return on investment for graduates.
- 91 percent of graduate degree programs show a positive return on investment for graduates.
- Nearly 90 percent of low-income students experience upward economic mobility.
- On average, students break even on their educational investment in under 10 years.
The study underscores that the state’s investment in the UNC System plays a pivotal role in keeping tuition low, thereby enhancing graduates’ lifetime return on investment. This, in turn, contributes to increased tax revenue, the establishment of new businesses, the creation of jobs, and greater philanthropic giving.