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Wise investment? A UND degree’s return on investment in line with U.S., but behind NDSU

FNS Photo by John Stennes Sophomore Haley Thorsen is majoring in psychology and has concluded that unless she continues on to get a master’s or doctoral degree, there isn’t any way for her to make a living in her field.

GRAND FORKS — Junior Devin Turner wanted to get a business degree when he came to the University of North Dakota as a freshman. He went there, rather than a community college or tech school, because he felt UND would provide him more opportunities to network, even though it was more expensive.

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Now, after deciding he wants a teaching degree instead, Turner still thinks his degree is worth the cost.

“To do what I want at all I basically have to have a degree, and I want to get it from a university where I’m more likely to get hired,” he said.

Turner’s friend, junior Dylan Stang, came to UND not knowing what he wanted to do and ended up finding the integrated studies program, which merges a variety of different subjects into one comprehensive major. While he still doesn’t know what he wants to do once he graduates, he said the expense of an education is worth it to find something he’s passionate about.

“I’m not looking for a career, so much as finding something I enjoy,” Stang said.

While both students said they hadn’t really thought about whether their degrees were worth the cost before, UND graduates are in line with most other institutions in the country when it comes to getting a return on their financial investment in a college education.

The average in-state student who graduates with a bachelor’s degree from UND will see an 8.6 percent annual return on investment, according to calculations done by the website Payscale, which analyzes national salary and employment trends. This means students UND earn more than 8 percent more per year than they would if they had just invested or saved what they spent on college tuition.

Investing to earn

The website used data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and looked at the cost of attendance and a degree’s potential earning capacity in 2013 to calculate whether a college education was really worth the cost.

Weighted with number of years it takes students to graduate, the out-of-pocket cost to get a bachelor’s degree at UND with financial aid is about $70,000 and graduates’ average starting salary is about $46,000 per year.

Therefore, a student’s 20-year return on investment — a graduate’s earnings, consisting of total income after 20 years of working minus what he or she would have earned as just a high school grad plus college tuition — will be about $280,000 in 2033.

“We certainly think we’re an excellent value for students,” UND spokesman Peter Johnson said.

While smaller institutions like Mayville State University, Jamestown College and Northland Community and Technical College aren’t included in the rankings, North Dakota State University gives in-state students the best bang for their buck in the state with an annual return on investment of 11 percent. This is partially due to slightly lower tuition costs and a larger pool of high-earning graduates in the engineering field.

NDSU has a larger amount of consistently high earners in the engineering field than UND does, which puts their typical starting salary out of college at about $48,000 and the cost to earn the degree at about $62,000, which is $8,000 less than at UND. While UND produces physician assistants that earn more than $91,000 per year, they are outliers and the typical starting salary out of college for a UND grad is about $2,000 less than at NDSU.

But Johnson said students at UND are still getting a great value.

“We’ve had graduates go on to work in major companies, like the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, and we’ve had folks who have gone into space,” he said. “Pick an area, and we’ve had students who have excelled in those areas.”


But the rankings don’t include obviously high earners who get other degrees, such as doctors, which makes it look like reasonably priced technology-oriented institutions are the clear winners in making their graduates richer on a national scale. For example, the Georgia Institute of Technology gives students a 17.1 percent annual return on investment and Montana Tech has the highest return in the seven-state area of 13.2 percent.

Sophomore Haley Thorsen is majoring in psychology and said there really isn’t any way for her to make a living unless she continues on to get a master’s degree or doctorate. She said that while it is more expensive, it’s a necessity in her field.

“It kind of comes down to having enough money to live comfortably and feel secure and do what you want,” she said.

Those interested in checking out the rankings themselves should visit

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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