Provost Norris’ Remarks to Faculty Senate – Dec. 4, 2023
Thank you, Chair Anderson.
It’s good to see all of you this afternoon. We are all in the final days of the fall semester, with a lot of work yet to do, and I sincerely appreciate all of your work to support our academic enterprise and our students — including your teaching, research and service to our university and the profession.
Today, I will provide an overview of the results from the UNC System’s Return on Investment (ROI) study, which was recently completed, presented to the UNC System Board of Governors and provided to the North Carolina General Assembly last month. You will recall that the study was commissioned and funded by the General Assembly. I’ll share a summary of the information presented to the Board of Governors last month.
Background on the ROI Study
The study was conducted by the Higher Education practice at Deloitte Consulting and is officially called the University of North Carolina System Evaluation of University Programs. It estimates the financial return on investment of the current programs at each constituent institution of the UNC System — 724 undergraduate programs and 575 graduate programs across the UNC System.
The ROI calculations isolated the additive value of a UNC degree by comparing the expected lifetime earnings of UNC graduates against the expected lifetime earnings of those without a college degree for undergraduate programs or with a bachelor’s degree for graduate programs — as measured by the American Community Survey. In their presentation, the consultants noted they did not measure other positive outcomes associated with earning a college degree — such as civic engagement, mental well-being and overall health — due to a lack of consistent data for those variables across UNC institutions.
As you have likely seen, the overall results were very positive, garnering national headlines.
Key Findings from the ROI Study
The overall results showed that degrees from North Carolina’s public universities pay off in future earnings for students graduating from a variety of degree programs — from engineering and education, to health sciences and the humanities.
• 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.
• When you subtract the cost of earning an undergraduate degree, the median overall ROI is $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.
• When you subtract the cost of earning a graduate degree, the median lifetime ROI is more than $930,000 for those who complete graduate degrees in the UNC System — compared to North Carolinians without graduate degrees.
Additional Highlights from the ROI Study
There were some additional highlights worth noting from the 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.
• In addition, the average student breaks even on their educational investment in under 10 years.
It’s important to note that North Carolina is one of the best-funded public university systems in the country. This not only helps boost graduates’ lifetime ROI, it leads to increased tax revenue, new businesses, new jobs and more philanthropic giving throughout the state.
Timeliness of the ROI Study
The ROI study comes at a time when there is growing skepticism about the value of higher education — both in terms of its relevance and ROI in today’s world.
The good news is that the results of the study affirmed what I think we all know … and that is the significant long-term value of a college degree — particularly when you earn one from a UNC public university.
Next Steps for the ROI Study
As for next steps, the ROI study provides an opportunity for all UNC System universities to review their academic program portfolios and identify opportunities to improve student outcomes. Possible actions include:
• Lowering the cost to students;
• Improving the alignment between program learning outcomes and the needs of employers; and
• Providing additional career services support to students in particular programs.
To that end, the Board of Governors has asked President Hans to issue guidance that:
• Identifies a threshold for low-ROI programs warranting immediate review;
• Calls on chancellors and their leadership teams to conduct a thorough review of the results of the ROI study for their respective campuses; and
• Requires each UNC System institution to report to the president and the Board of Governors on actions that will be taken to improve outcomes at programs found to result in low ROI.
As soon as we receive this guidance from President Hans, we will assemble a team to review the ROI study results for App State — as well as develop and report our action plan to the president and Board of Governors.
The Board will report to the General Assembly on the results of this program review in the spring.
I wish you all a smooth end to the semester. I look forward to seeing you at Commencement and wish you a happy and relaxing winter break.
This concludes my remarks.
Click here to view the slide presentation.