Graduate School is Worth the Investment


The return on investment (ROI) from a graduate public policy degree is not only worth the investment, but it pays dividends for the rest of your life. With Rick Santorum calling President Barack Obama a “snob” for wanting every American to have the opportunity to go to college, this is a perfect time to look at the cost-benefit-analysis of higher education.

In general, people with advanced degrees earn more money than people without advanced degrees. According to a recent study by Georgetown University, the median lifetime earnings, in 2009 dollars, for individuals with a bachelor’s degree is $2,268,000. For those with a master’s degree, the median lifetime earnings is $2,671,000.00. That is a difference of $403,000. They may not seem like much, but invested, it could be a lot more. 

The price tag for the degrees though, has some people wondering if it makes sense to invest the money for a mere $403,000 difference. Tuition alone at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is estimated at $41,418 per year. Princeton’s tuition is $38,620. Carnegie Mellon’s program is $37,800. All of those schools are ranked in the top 10 public policy graduate programs, according to U.S. News and World Report. But look closer. Comparable degrees at other highly ranked public policy programs are up to $30,000 less per year than Harvard’s hefty fee. At Syracuse University, ranked the top public policy program in the U.S., the annual tuition is $28,944. At the University of California, Berkeley (ranked #6), out-of-state tuition is $27,938 and in-state tuition is $12,836. And at the University of Michigan (ranked #7), out-of-state tuition is $19,229 and in-state tuition is just $10,574. U.S. News ranked Harvard #2, Princeton #4, and Carnegie Mellon #10. 

Return on investment, however, is not just a numbers game. People do not only go to graduate school so that they can make more money. In fact, if people are going to school for public policy, they are de facto acknowledging that they are not going to get rich from their degree. By their very nature, public policy degrees prepare graduates to work in the public and non-profit sectors.

There are other “returns” that public policy degrees offer graduates. Some people who choose to pursue public policy degrees may do so because they have decided to change careers but they have no background in public policy. A new degree is a great way to make a career change. Someone who has worked in music and dance for 10 years with no background in economics or other quantitative courses may have a hard time making a career change to public policy. A graduate degree allows people to make such a change.

Reducing a public policy degree’s return on investment to “dollars in” and “dollars out” cheapens the degree and the reason most people go into the field. While some may argue that a graduate degree is not necessary for certain public policy positions, it certainly cannot hurt. Graduate programs have a lot to offer than just a bigger pay-check. You will meet other professionals that share some of your goals, many of them with interesting and diverse life experiences that will add to your personal and professional growth. You will make professional connections that will last you throughout your career. And you will make lifelong friendships. Those are just some of the returns that cannot be quantified.

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