Study Shows Value of UNC System Degree

Students who earn undergraduate degrees from UNC System institutions earn, over their lifetime, approximately $572,000 more than North Carolinians without a college degree, according to a report released this week by the UNC Board of Governors.

The report, mandated and funded by the General Assembly in 2021, analyzed investment returns for more than 700 undergraduate and 575 graduate programs across the system and took more than 18 months to complete. It provided a consolidated overview of the 16 system universities, presenting a cohesive analysis by program rather than delving into individual specifics for each institution.

The board invested $2 million in the Return on Investment study, which was conducted by Deloitte and found that of 1,299 programs across the UNC System, 93 percent have a positive return on investment for graduates.

“In plain English, that means we’re keeping our promise to the students of North Carolina,” UNC System President Peter Hans ’91 said in the board’s Nov. 15 meeting held on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Students who complete graduate-level degrees receive a median return of $938,000 compared with those who hold only bachelor’s degrees. That equates to total median lifetime earnings of about $2.1 million, according to the study.

The calculations were made by comparing the expected lifetime earnings of UNC System undergraduates with the expected lifetime earnings of those without a college degree, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, according to the report.

The study also found that nearly 90 percent of UNC System graduates from low-income households see upward economic mobility. “We are, over time, elevating them out of poverty, helping them to do better for themselves, for their families,” Peter Fritz from Deloitte said in a statement.

“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.”

Computer science, engineering and health profession majors showed the greatest earnings, and teachers and English majors also saw a positive return on investment, the study found. For programs in which students did not experience positive growth, Hans said he believes the Board of Governors will charge him and chancellors across the system with assessing those programs and developing solutions to “grow the value proposition.”

Read the full report here.

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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