Consider Return On Investment When Deciding on an Education

Paul Dykewicz

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin opined.

With roughly 44 million Americans collectively owing nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, questions have arisen about whether the financial sacrifice is worth the investment of time, money and potential lost wages from working or missed returns from investing in the stock market instead of going to college. But the value of a college education can be quantified by showing that future pay tends to rise with increased higher education.

Nonetheless, graduates from the class of 2016 averaged $37,172 in student loan debt, marking a 6% hike from 2015. Student loans average an 11.1% delinquency rate, with those who are keeping up with their payments shelling out an average of $351 a month.

About 40% of student debt is owed by those who pursued graduate and professional degrees. The highest debt, $161,772 for medical and health sciences, and $140,616 for law, also is focused on training talent for the professions that typically offer heightened pay.

But Peter Cappelli, the George W. Taylor professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, offered cautionary advice in his book, “Will College Pay Off?” In Cappelli’s book, he cautioned, “It is certainly possible that college grads will earn more than they would have if they had not gone to college, and still not earn enough to pay off the cost of attending college.”

Cappelli found that there is little additional payoff from incurring high costs to attend an elite university. He advised considering the potential return on investment (ROI) when deciding whether to absorb tens of thousands of dollars of student debt. In many cases, such an analysis will lead to choosing less expensive schools.

College dropouts such as Bill Gates, who left Harvard University after just two years to launch Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen, show that earning a college degree is not a requirement to achieve financial success.

However, Harvard still can make sense, especially if a student aspires to win a Rhodes Scholarship and pursue a graduate degree at Oxford University.

The latter course is the path taken by Aurora Griffin, a Rhodes Scholar and the author of “How I stayed Catholic at Harvard,” a book featured earlier this month by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt for tips to help college students and others who seek to live faithfully in secular environments.

Challenging situations can arise for people who try to live out their faith in business, in government and in places such as Washington, D.C., where those who seek to uphold their religion can incur harsh criticism from individuals and political opponents who view the world differently.

To “put out into the deep” is a phrase from the Gospel of Luke that Griffin said she applies to her own life. The words call for digging deeply into theological truths to clear up confusion and to become more giving in friendships, she added.

The faithful still may attain success but the Gospel does not promise “prosperity,” Griffin said.

“Love God, and everything won’t just work out,” Griffin said. “But I do attribute my earthy success to the habits that I cultivated through my faith, the people I met and the worldview it instills in me.”

Griffin said her faith helped her win a Rhodes Scholarship. The former Rhodes Scholars who interviewed the candidates chose Griffin, in part, because she held true to her Catholic beliefs in answering their probing questions, the head of the selection committee later told her. Staying consistent with her Catholic faith by opposing embryonic stem cell research, even if her view might be unpopular with those awarding the scholarship, swayed the panel of former winners to select her, Griffin said.

Griffin acknowledged she has challenged herself by taking the role of someone who others might perceive, at times, as a “barbarian outside the gate.” In Griffin’s case, she spoke of willingly becoming a contrarian when warranted.

“I kind of thrive being that person who disagrees with everyone in the room,” Griffin said. “I don’t mind that whatsoever. In fact, I find that intellectually interesting and find that energizing.”

At Harvard, Griffin found mentors, opportunities to volunteer, chances to lead and to teach others, as well as many close friendships.

The influence of her father as a devout Catholic businessman, who prays before meetings and gives back to his community, has been a positive example, Griffin said.

“He (my father) understands how business does good on many levels: making quality products people need to live well — in his case, housing, supplying meaningful and upwardly mobile work for employees, providing for his own family and helping those who are less fortunate,” Griffin shared in responding to a question. “Sometimes the Church regards business with suspicion, and we always have to be careful that material things don’t capture our affections. However, when lived well, business can be a very holy pursuit, and I’ve been blessed to see that first-hand.”


Paul Dykewicz is the editorial director of Eagle Financial Publications, editor of and DividendInvestor, a columnist for Townhall and Townhall Finance, a commentator and the author of an inspirational book, Holy Smokes! Golden Guidance from Notre Dame’s Championship Chaplain,” with a Foreword by legendary football coach Lou Holtz. Visit Paul’s website at and follow him on Twitter @PaulDykewicz.



Education can an expensive, serious investment, especially for advanced degrees. Our best advice? Consider the final “return on investment” from the degree

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