Graduating university is linked with earning more and a higher chance of being employed. But expensive (and, in some countries, increasing) fees for tertiary courses – not to forget years in study which could have otherwise been spent earning – mean some are questioning “is university worth the money?”.
In fact, the Office of Fair Trading in the United Kingdom is running a “call for information” for the last two months of 2013 about undergraduate higher education in England. Among the topics will be how universities compete, deliver value for money and set fees.
Pluses and minuses
The eZonomics article Five numbers to help answer “is university worth it?” lays out some of the dynamics. Going to a “top” university (perhaps acting as a shorthand signal to employers the student has certain appealing characteristics) and getting high grades are linked with better employability after graduation.
Back in 2010, the Browne Report found the average UK graduate earns comfortably over £100,000 more (in current value, after tax) over the course of a working life than someone with A levels who does not go to university.
However, numbers associated with university also carry a degree of caution.
For example, 18% of university graduates in Canada were earning below half the median income, OECD figures from 2011 showed, signalling financial risks of investing in education.
Likewise, research from the United States titled Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be…Lawyers concluded the potential increase in earnings did not necessarily offset the costs of training to be a lawyer in that market.
I wouldn’t trade my university years for anything
Of course, education is not a purely financial pursuit.
The costs and benefits cannot be simply be plugged in to an equation summing time and money spent.
Economics professor Andrew Oswald quantifies some of the additional factors here - including the findings of links between tertiary education and happiness – and a longer life.