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Guest column/The big, fast payoff of higher education

At a time when the pandemic recession continues to present strong economic headwinds, especially for lower wage earners, having the skills to better compete in the job market, contribute in the workplace and provide for ourselves and our families is more important than ever before.

For those who lack the skills that employers need and want, now is the time to find out how to get them. It’s a view that is widespread. A recent study by the Strada Center for Education Consumer Insights showed that 35 percent of Americans believe they would need more education or training if they lost their job because of COVID-19. Unfortunately, self-doubt is a major barrier for half of Americans when it comes to pursuing education and training.

One of the keys to overcoming it, however, according to the report, is helping students connect their education to a career, which allows them to believe their education will be worth the cost. One way to make that connection is helping students understand the simple return-on-investment of a college degree — and that ROI is particularly significant at Western Governors University Ohio, a nonprofit university geared toward serving working adults looking to get ahead in their careers.

Research has shown that college graduates on average make $1 million more during their lifetime than those without a college education. However with today’s cost of higher education, four-year degrees can range from about $10,000 a year to more than $30,000 a year, it is increasingly important that students carefully consider which degree program is the best fit.

While Americans still think college is important, people are skeptical of how high earnings will be for today’s graduates, and if the return on the investment in their education is really worth it. At WGU Ohio, we believe earning a quality education should not create unnecessary financial difficulties, which is why WGU’s average yearly tuition is about half the cost of comparable institutions. It’s the kind of student-first approach you would expect from a university founded by a group of state governors.

Unlike other universities, WGU’s tuition costs are not based on the number of credits students pursue. Instead, it is a flat rate for an entire term, with students having the chance to take as many courses as they’d like during that time. This approach, coupled with a competency-based model that gives students the ability to move through courses as they master them, helps keep costs down. But the question remains, is the degree worth the cost?

The numbers speak for themselves. WGU graduates, on average, increase their incomes by $12,500 within two years of graduation. With an average cost of $15,000 for a bachelor’s degree, the return on investment of a WGU degree is less than two years.

It’s an ROI that Wall Street can only dream of achieving. If you consider that investments in the stocks of the Dow Jones Industrial Average have returned, on average, a 7.75 percent return annually since 1921, the 100-percent return of a WGU bachelor’s degree in less than two years is better understood for the good deal it is.

We are all optimistic that 2021 will bring relief from all that made 2020 the year to forget. It will be if we seize opportunities such as the chance to improve our skills to move up the career ladder, or even jumpstart a new career. The results speak for themselves: the effort and costs more than come back to us–and faster than we might think.

(Allen is chancellor of WGU Ohio, the state affiliate of online, nonprofit Western Governors University.)

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