In a year that has upended higher education and created great uncertainty, it is more important than ever for students to understand which colleges payoff and how quickly. In April of 2020, Third Way released a report outlining the use of a Price-to-Earnings Premium (PEP) to evaluate the value of attending college and help students assess and compare the economic payoffs of attending a given college. Nationally, Third Way found that 86 percent of public colleges and universities achieved a return on investment for students within five years. In other words, it absolutely paid off to attend these campuses and did so quite quickly. Unfortunately, and raising grave concern, more than half of for-profit institutions do not exhibit a return on their investment, even 10 years after initial enrollment. In too many instances, these colleges cost students’ significant amounts of money, and yet never produced a return on that investment – essentially leaving students worse off than had they never attended.

In this brief, the Campaign for College Opportunity and Third Way examine these trends for California. Applying the same methodology employed for the national report, we find that about two-thirds of California’s colleges and universities allow students to recoup the cost of their degree within five years. This state-wide average, however, masks substantial variation among public community colleges and public, private and for-profit universities. Students at nine out of ten public colleges and universities in California recoup their cost within five years, as do roughly half of students at independent non-profit colleges and universities. This is true for only three in ten private for-profit colleges and universities. Where one enrolls in college matters, not just in terms of cost, it matters in terms of value and long-term benefit. It is clear by the analysis in this report that California’s public community colleges and public universities, overwhelmingly provide a significant return on investment to students who attend them. Read more