A new Utah Foundation report affirms the more postsecondary education a person has, there’s a better return on investment.

But the report, titled “Bang for your buck: Which Utah schools have the best return on investment,” also indicates much depends on what a student studies and the workforce demand for those credentials.

The report, which examined return on investment at Utah’s public and private colleges and universities, found Weber State University is tops for students’ 10-year net present value of their education. This was calculated by how much a certain sum of money — in this case, the future earnings of additional education minus the cost of that education — would be worth today.

The report shows that the first-year returns of graduates of some Weber State University associate degree programs — computer science, industrial production technologies, nursing and allied health professions — outstrip the median bachelor’s degree programs.

Is earning a college degree worth the time, and the cost?

Graduates of Weber State’s manufacturing engineering technology associate degree program — its plastics and composites concentration, for one — experience first-year median returns of nearly $69,000, according to the report.

The median return on investment for those who earn associate degrees in computer science from Weber State is $58,224 and $48,672 for nursing.

Nursing students Kalley Jaques and Aisha Holts work on a central line change as students work in the simulation lab in the Marriott Health Building at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“Bachelor’s degrees in Utah are more likely to pay off in the longer run — though Weber State University defies this trend. The most common credential from Weber State University is an associate’s degree, though they also offer certifications and bachelor’s degrees,” the report states. The university also offers a wide array of graduate degree programs, including a doctorate of nursing practice and a physician assistant program.

Weber State University Provost Ravi Krovi said the report was welcome news to administrators and educators striving to offer programs that meet workforce needs and help graduates earn higher wages.

“We were thrilled but we’re not altogether surprised. It’s sort of validating, quite honestly. We certainly want to tell our story but when you have data which comes in and proves it, that’s great. That’s even better,” he said.

Krovi said Weber State University has made “a conscious attempt to really focus on cost from a tuition and fees perspective. Our tuition and fees have not gone up that much. If you go back to the last 10 years, it’s less than the overall increase in the consumer price index.”

The university has made guided pathways a priority, too, he said.

“As students come in, we try to give them a better perspective of what are the options and so I think it’s one thing to give advice, but it’s also important to have the right type of programming. Stackable programs really help us from that standpoint,” he said.

A student might come to Weber State with the goal of earning a certificate, which are short-term programs. Once they grow accustomed to the college experience, the hope is they will feel more comfortable and confident about seeking an associate degree or even a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“That transition and transfer is a lot more seamless because it’s all our curriculum, our program. So I think that mission, the dual mission for us, is really helpful for students,” Krovi said.

Nursing student Whitney Weston works out a few mathematical problems as she and other students go about their work in the simulation lab in the Marriott Health Building at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The report also notes Salt Lake Community College’s large variety of associate degrees. Its computer and information sciences program, for example, “has a first-year return on investment of a whopping $53,628,” the report states.

Associate degrees with the highest median earnings include engineering and architecture. Median earnings are also higher than average for public safety, nursing, construction and manufacturing, business and agriculture degrees, according to the report.

The report also found that the private, for-profit Neumont College of Computer Science had the highest ranked 40-year net present value of any college in Utah, followed by Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Weber State and Westminster University.

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The report explores the financial return on investment for education beyond high school — or whether pursuing certificates, certification, associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees make financial sense.

“Research suggests that the return on investment for education beyond high school is generally worth the time and effort,” the report states.

But degree selection and workforce and industry needs can make a difference.

According to the report, more than a quarter of those with associate degrees earn more than the median bachelor’s degree wage and 35% of those with bachelor’s degrees earn more than the median master’s degree wage.

Nursing student Tia Judd works in the simulation lab in the Marriott Health Building at Weber State University in Ogden on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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