Tuesday, 12 February 2013 19:00

Calculate The Value & ROI Of Your College Education Now With These Tools Featured

This is the 4th installment in the education bubble series. This piece gets down to the nitty gritty, and details the valuation software that we've built to actually value YOUR college education, that of those whom you care for, or assist you in selecting a path through the higher education process. The app is available online in beta form for all to peruse. I simply request that you report any bugs, usability issues or inconsistencies to me in exchange for its beta use. The simplified web version of the app for undergraduate studies only, is available here. The instruction  for said app can be downloaded here if you have a problem viewing the images in a browser.

Let me make a couple of things perfectly clear before we proceed:

  1. There really is no tool such as this commonly available to students, parents and families to assist in the education decision-making process.
  2. Despite what you make think, as an individual, about the merits of post secondary education, the actual empirical and economic value of said education should be one of the primary factors used in considering to pursue such.
  3. For those who are currently ensconced in the pursuit of a business, economics or accounting degree, the contents of said modeling software should be second nature and the results of said analysis should be of no surprise. If a negative ROI takes you aback, you should come to either one of two conclusions:
    1. There is an egregious error in the software (not very likely), or
    2.  The value of the education that you are currently pursuing is overstated and/or fictitiously inflated.

If you have not read the previous installments in this series, please do:

  1. How To Profit From The Impending Bursting Of The Education Bubble, pt 1 - A Bubble Bigger Than Subprime & More Dangerous Than Sovereign Debt!
  2. How To Profit From The Impending Bursting Of The Education Bubble, pt 2 - "Knowledge How", Replicating Grecian Insolvency & Why Most Diplomas Are Depreciating Assets In Real Terms
  3. How To Profit From The Impending Bursting Of The Education Bubble, pt 3: As Bad As Harvard Endowment Funds -0.05% ROI? The Levered Harvard Diploma!

About Knowledge How: College and University Education Valuation Software

This application captures, quantifies and illustrates the value of a diploma from higher education institutions across different disparate majors and gives each a distinct eROI (Economic return on investment) figure for students pursuing these courses.  The app uses inputs of (1) expected salary of a student after completing a major, (2) the tuition payable for pursuing the major, (3) any loans that would be taken to finance the course fee, (4) a blended tax rate to compute disposable income, (4) interest rate for the loan, (5) household expenses that a person is likely to incur, (6) growth rates in salary, (7) Opportunity cost for pursuing a major full time, (8) and an adjustment for the unemployment rate to factor in the impact of unemployment.

The app also computes cash flows that a student is likely to earn over the life of his career after considering his installments for student loan repayment, household expenses, taxes and the opportunity cost for pursuing a major.

The table below shows the computation of cash flows

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Year 6*

Gross Expected Salary

Adjusted for Unemployment/Underemployment

Less:  Taxes

Net Disposable Salary







Less: Tuition Cost

Less: Lost Wages or Opportunity Cost

Less: Household expenses

Less: Loan installments

Net Cash Flows

 *The model runs over the expected career life a student after the completion of a course

The app comes pre-populated with data to compute the economic internal rate of return (IRR) and Net Present Value (NPV) @ 6% for the following universities across undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD courses

  1. Harvard
  2. Yale
  3. Princeton
  4. DeVry
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. City University of New York (CUNY)
  7. Capella
  8. Pheonix

 The undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD courses that have been considered in the model for computing & comparing returns are listed below.

Undergraduate Courses

Postgraduate courses

PhD Course

BA Economics

Masters of Business Administration

PhD Course

BA English

Master of Architecture

BA Political Science

Juris Doctor

BA Psychology

Master of Science

All undergraduate courses

The IRR and NPVs of above listed universities across undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD courses are also compared with return on equities, commercial real estate and precious metals.


The pre-populated data is easily overwritten to allow the app user to use their own prospective/actual institutions, interest rates and assumptions.

Structure of the App’s Financial Model

 (How the model is structured in terms of information, inputs and results)

Input & Assumption Sheet: The model has one input & assumption sheet. It has all the inputs for assumptions that are linked to different sheets in the model. These assumptions can be changed to see different results if desired.

Visual Analysis Sheets: There are three sheets – one each for Undergraduate, Postgraduate and PhD. These sheets display graphical results for return on investment across different Majors and institutions.

Break-even Analysis Sheets:  There are five sheets – one each for Undergraduate, Postgraduate, PhD, Bachelors + Post Graduate, and Bachelors + Post Graduate + PhD. Each sheet shows the cumulative cash flows for majors/courses & universities for all years in a student’s career life cycle. It also displays total cash flows during the period and the year of break-even for a course from a university. The graphical representation of the information (in the same sheet) helps to quickly and visually compare cash flows and year of break-even across different courses and universities

Summary Analysis Sheets: There are five sheets - one each for Undergraduate, Postgraduate, PhD, Bachelors + Post Graduate, and Bachelors + Post Graduate + PhD. These sheets summarize & compare ROI and NPV @ 6% across courses from different universities

Market to Market Sheet: The sheet compares the return of equities, CRE, and precious metals to those of bachelors, postgraduate and PhD degrees from the universities.

Summary Return Analysis Sheet: There are five sheets –one each for Undergraduate, Postgraduate, PhD, Bachelors + Post Graduate, and Bachelors + Post Graduate + PhD. These sheets show detailed calculations on ROI and NPV for different courses across the number of universities.

Unpaid Internship: The sheet shows IRR and NPV computation in a scenario that a person works as an unpaid intern with a top or progressive company in the US instead of pursuing a bachelors’ degree

Data: The sheet has data on cost of courses from different universities as well as salaries for students graduating from them

Key Assumptions / Inputs

The model uses the following key inputs

Tuition/Course Fee: The fees for different courses have been sourced from the respective universities for the academic year 2013-14

Salaries: The current offered salaries for students graduating with different majors & universities has been sourced from www.payscale.com

Other Assumptions: Assumptions which have been applied consistently across different courses & universities are as follows:

Interest on loan

6% p.a

Income Tax Rate


Loan Term after employment starts (in years)


Household expenses (monthly)


Opportunity cost (per annum)

-          Bachelors

-          Postgraduates

-          PHD




Salary Growth

3% p.a

Unemployment adjustment

-          Bachelors

-          Postgraduates

-          PHD





Key Findings

The current weak economic environment has seriously dented the economic viability of pursuing a degree (Bachelors, Masters or a PhD) from some of the top universities in the US. The persistent decline in salaries being offered to graduates from these universities coupled with continued rise in cost of courses has resulted in a fall in economic return to students from these majors.

In the US, the trend of increasing duration of student loans and higher aggregate student loans outstanding are a matter of immediate attention. These trends have increased concern over higher student loan default in the near future, resultantly seriously raising the need for evaluation of value of securitized assets based on such loans. In essence, it’s the mortgage bubble all over again.

Return from Undergraduate Courses


Almost all universities (listed below) offer very low returns over a student’s career life if aggregated as an “all majors” category. The high cost of courses and lowering of salary being offered upon completion of courses are major drivers for lower returns.

NPV @6% p.a is negative for all schools on an aggregated basis.

Resultantly the break-even year impractically far in most cases - after the year 2040 (assuming a start year of 2013).

The returns are far lower compared with the 30-year average return on equities (5-6%) and 20-year return on commercial real estate (>7%) and 30-year return on Gold (4.5%). When taking individual majors into consideration, the numbers get even more interesting for diversity comes into play. The accompanying app shows the divergence in value not only between different majors within a school, but also the same majors between different schools, thereby actually valuing both the majors and the schools themselves!

Return from Postgraduate Courses

Postgraduate degrees offer a much better return compared with other asset classes than do undergraduate degrees.  

The break-even year is achieved much earlier, in most cases within 12-16 years.

NPV @6% is positive in all the cases.

Return from PhD Courses

Similar to undergraduate courses, return from PhD courses is lower compared to postgraduate courses. The returns are also lower compared to 30-year average return on equities (5-6%) and 20-year return on commercial real estate (>7%) and 30-year return on Gold (4.5%)

The break-even year is achieved after a very long time, after almost 26-28 years.

The Importance of the Variable, Inputs and Assumptions

The eROI of the degrees in question is highly sensitive to the inputs made to calculate it. The primary inputs with the largest influence are:

Opportunity costs – while in school, the money that you are not making simply adds up very, very quickly. Many take the money and experience gained in the actual workforce for granted when attempting evaluate a degree. From an mathematical perspective, that is a mistake.

Debt – the amount of loans taken, if any and the terms of said loans. Thus grant and scholarships make a big difference, as does (to a much lesser extent, of course) equity cash payments.

Salary upon graduation – this is the actual positive cash flows allegedly stemming from the education. A mediocre salary earned earlier actually has a strong chance of being more valuable via time value than a strong salary earned much later. This is particularly the case when debt is thrown into the equation. Again, math rules the day.

Living expenses – when calculating the eROI of a degree, one simply cannot ignore the net cash flows since that is the ONLY way to monetize one’s education. Living expense drastically reduce net cash flows, and they must be taken into consideration when calculating  eROI, as opposed to many more passive investments.

Unemployment rate and business climate upon graduation – with high unemployment, high underemployment (individuals who are employed, but considerable underpaid in proportion to their education and/or experience), sluggish economic environments and/or shifts in business cycles that favor one industry over another, it is quite likely that one will not materialize the expected average salary of the mean graduate (the inputs used for the [salary upon graduation] input, above) upon entering the workforce. Cyclical trends amongst and in between industries tend to have the same of similar effect. 

The Government's take?

In closing, I'd like to point out the government's attempt at proffering a quantitative tool to assist in selecting colleges. Of course, it focuses more on nominal cost than economic result (as does our model), but it's better than what any other administration has put out (read as nothing). Those who are interested can peruse the following links:

  1. High School Students Critique Obama's College Scorecard - High ...

    The Obama administration's proposed College Scorecard is all Greek to high school students, according to a report released Monday by the 

  2. Feb 6, 2012 – While all of those information sources may not be aligned to the extent necessary to populate the College Scorecard as currently proposed...
  3. Dec 3, 2012 – The College Scorecard, President Obama's proposed way to provide students with better data about their college options, leaves many of those ..[PDF] 
    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
  4. The President has proposed providing this information to students and families. ABCCollege. ABC College  Institutions that enroll similar types of students ...
  5. Dec 5, 2012 – ... on the Obama administration's proposed college scorecard. The scorecard, a reference for students considering attending higher education, ...[PDF] 
  6. File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    The White House will soon unveil a final version of its “college scorecard”—an online tool .... The President has proposed providing this information to students ...
  7. Feb 2, 2012 – Categories: Accountability, College Costs and Student Debt, Higher ...proposed “College Scorecard” and “Financial Aid Shopping Sheet”.
  8. Dec 3, 2012 – The college scorecard, a proposed online tool meant to help students make ... The proposed “college scorecard” that aims to give prospective ...
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Last modified on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 09:13

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