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Press Release

Detailed analysis shows positive return on investment for 94% of undergraduate degree programs; nearly 90% of low-income students who graduate experience upward economic mobility

RALEIGH, N.C. – Degrees from North Carolina’s public universities overwhelmingly pay off in future earnings for graduates, according to a comprehensive study of academic degree programs across the UNC System.

The study showed that the typical degree from a UNC System university is not only an affordable investment, but also has high value in the job market, leading to significant positive returns to graduates. The results come at a time of growing skepticism about the value of a college degree, according to national polls.

The study finds that median lifetime earnings of UNC System bachelor’s degree graduates are $1.2 million – surpassing lifetime earnings of North Carolinians without degrees by about $572,000. Subtracting the cost of earning a degree, the median overall return on investment (ROI) is nearly $500,000 for UNC System undergraduates who complete degrees, compared to North Carolinians without undergraduate degrees.

For those who earn graduate degrees, the median lifetime earnings are $2.1 million, or about $1 million more than those who have only a bachelor’s degree. Subtracting costs, the median lifetime return on investment is more than $930,000 for those who complete graduate degrees in the UNC System, compared to North Carolinians without graduate degrees.

The study was commissioned and funded by the General Assembly and conducted by Deloitte. It estimates the return on investment for 724 undergraduate programs and 575 graduate programs across the UNC System. It did not measure other positive outcomes associated with earning a college degree, such as civic engagement, mental well-being and overall health.

The data indicate that a college diploma from a public university in North Carolina is well worth it, bringing positive returns in nearly every major across a wide array of degree programs, from engineering to education to health sciences to the humanities.

“Public education is meant to be an engine of opportunity, and it’s clear that our public universities are delivering on that core mission,” said UNC System President Peter Hans. “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.”

Among the findings of the UNC System study:

  • 94 percent of undergraduate degree programs have a positive ROI for graduates
  • 91 percent of graduate degree programs have a positive ROI for graduates
  • Nearly 90 percent of low-income students experience upward economic mobility
  • The average student breaks even on their educational investment in under 10 years
  • The state’s investment in the UNC System keeps tuition low, helping to boost graduates’ lifetime ROI, leading to increased tax revenue, new businesses, new jobs, and more philanthropic giving

Note: The final report is updated as of Nov. 20, 2023.