Not a day that goes by that we do not hear about the cost of higher education. But is the cost of a college degree worth it? In other words, does it pay to invest in yourself (or have someone invest in you)? We believe the answer to that question is yes, and especially so at The University of Texas at Dallas which is both highly selective and capable of economic transformation of its students. But don’t take my word for it, let’s turn to the data.
Among the many measures by which a university can be graded upon for educating their students is the economic impact they have upon them over time. One way to measure this is through something called the Mobility Index. The New York Times reports this index as a measure that reflects both access and outcomes representing the likelihood that a student from the university moved up two or more income quintiles. For each university, the Index is comprised of various inputs including, among other things: the student’s median family income, the percentage of students from families who made about $20,000 or less per year, and the percentage of students from families who made about $630,000 or more per year.
At UT Dallas, the Mobility Index rates quite high, especially when compared to not just our peer/aspirant institutions Georgia Tech, Colorado-Boulder, Maryland-College Park, Purdue, UC Santa Barbara, and Iowa State, but also to two of the most prominent universities in the state of Texas. For UT Dallas, the Index ranks at 20%, meaning that 1 out of every 5 students moved up two or more income quintiles in the follow-up period. At UT Austin, that figure is 15%, while at Texas A&M it is 13%.
What’s even more impressive is that UT Dallas is serving students who have the lowest median family income, which was just below $90,000, for the class of 2013. The comparable figures for UT Austin ($123,900) and Texas A&M ($130,900) are significantly higher. The bottom line: that UT Dallas graduates evince a Mobility Index higher than many world-class institutions given their starting point is even more impressive. The investment pays off, literally.
But, upward mobility and accruing wealth is one thing and there is more to the university undergraduate experience than dollars earned. Developing a passion for an academic field, learning new friends, interacting with an international student body, and developing the hard and soft skills to contribute to society are all part and parcel of the academic experience. UT Dallas graduates have gone onto high profile—but meaningful careers—that have in some cases changed the world for the better. As MasterCard once said, “There are some things money can’t buy.” And a higher education experience is one of those things.
We are proud that UT Dallas is consistently ranked as one of the country’s best values in public colleges who welcomes all students. Of course, we—and other universities who are stewards of public tax dollars, can and should do more with the funding we receive from the state and many additional dollars we raise through research and philanthropic avenues. At the end of the day however, investing in our students and investing in their education pays off in more than one way. As Warren Buffett so eloquently put it, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Alex R. Piquero is Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Research at The University of Texas at Dallas.