Report shows value, ROI on college education in Tennessee

Published 7:59 am Friday, October 28, 2022

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As a loan forgiveness plan is pushed by President Joe Biden, a new report is showing the value and return on investment for the many degrees students can obtain from Tennessee’s public colleges and universities.

Beacon Center, a nonprofit policy group, looked at student debt compared to earnings for new programs.

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The top-ranked program for return on investment was the associates’ degree nursing programs at Walters State Community College with $51,182 average annual earnings and $3,902 in debt.

The other top five include the nursing programs at Motlow State Community College, Northeast State Community College and Dyersburg State Community College along with the computer and information sciences at Pellissippi State Community College.

Those programs had only 8% to 17% of debt as a percentage of earnings. The top 10 programs for return on investment were all at the state’s community colleges.

“It turns out that the majority of majors in state universities have a positive return on investment, which is good news,” according to Ron Shultis, Beacon’s director of Policy and Research. “However, it’s still important to realize that nearly one in ten degrees are serving neither students nor taxpayers. These universities need to find a way to make their programs more useful for students, else lawmakers may need to step in to either fix or eliminate the programs.”

The lowest return on investment came from the anthropology program at Middle Tennessee State (178% debt as percentage of earnings), general agriculture at Tennessee State (152%), English and literature at the University of Tennessee-Martin (140%), international/global studies at Middle Tennessee (151%) and the drama/theatre arts and stagecraft at the University of Memphis (127%).

The sociology programs at both the University of Memphis and Middle Tennessee State were also part of the top 10, along with English/literature at Austin Peay, communication and media studies at Tennessee-Martin and linguistics, comparative, and related language studies and services at Memphis.