Think of higher education as an investment, because it is

We have commented from time to time over the years on tuition rates at Youngstown State University, and the comments have not always been favorable.

While YSU can still boast one of the lowest state university tuition rates in Ohio, the fact is that tuition has increased steadily over decades, and the cumulative effect has been dramatic.

As we noted in a recent editorial on the end of Dr. Cynthia Anderson’s presidency, a year’s tuition when she started at YSU in 1968 was $450. Today that wouldn’t pay for two semester hours, with annual tuition and fees topping $8,000. That increase is nearly three times the rate of inflation for that period.

There have been a lot of contributing factors to those increases, and certainly YSU is not atypical among universities in seeing tuition inflation drastically outstrip market-basket inflation.

Labor costs at the university have risen above the rate of inflation, the costs of construction and building maintenance have risen, security forces have grown and energy costs are higher.

In Ohio, unfortunately, the level of state support for a university education has shrunk almost as fast as the costs have risen, putting an increasing burden on the students and parents who are paying the tuition.

We suspect that history will not be kind to Ohio and other states that are balancing their budgets on the backs of their universities. Just as inflation has a gradual and cumulative effect on the cost of education, reducing support for education will have a gradual and cumulative effect on the education level of the state’s population And it is no secret and should come as no surprise that states with the highest level of education among their residents are the most prosperous. That same calculus applies to areas within a state.

Now, the good news

These observations, as negative as they may be, are, however prologue to an observation that last Sunday’s paper carried a story that should encourage the YSU students of today and tomorrow — as well as the new president of the university, Dr. Randy Dun.

The story reported that YSU ranks well among colleges and universities in Ohio in an analysis of “return on investment,” that is the lifetime effect of a YSU degree, based on what it costs and compared to lifetime returns at other institutions., placed YSU 21st among nearly 400 post-secondary institutions in Ohio for return on investment. That placed YSU right in the middle of the 44 colleges and universities that were rated for the value they provided.

At the top of the list was Case Western Reserve University. Although its tuition is almost five times that of YSU, its graduates have an increase in lifetime earning of about $1 million. YSU graduates had a lifetime return of about $445,000 on their investment. Still, at 21st, YSU placed above Wright State at 22, Bowling Green at 24 and Kent State at 27.

As with any lists, we’re sure there are those who take exception to how their university ranked or the criteria used to reach the ranking.

But this was not a list that was thrown together. It was compiled using information from the National Center for Educational Statistics, Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, PayScale and the Carnegie Foundation. Those who want to evaluate the methodology themselves can got to

Whatever nuances there may be in such evaluations, the one thing that can’t be disputed is that there is value in education. And people (or regions or states or nations) who lose sight of that will pay a price in the end.

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