Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

May 16, 2019

Postsecondary Success Notes | What is college worth?


Today, more and more Americans are asking the question: What is college worth?

All across the country, students and families want to know if that degree or certificate, which could cost them many thousands of dollars and leave them in debt for years, is still the most reliable path to a rewarding career and a better life?

I get it. I’d be asking myself the exact same question.

I always had college in my sights, and, as one of seven kids with similar ambitions, I understood what it meant financially for me and my family. That was primarily why I chose to go in-state, to a public university, and live at home throughout the years of my bachelor’s degree and, later, medical school. On the path to become a doctor, I was confident in the long-term return on my education investment, but it isn’t always so apparent.

Many years later, when I was a university chancellor, I made it a priority to secure and expand scholarships, grants and other funds so that college was a possibility for students who took bigger financial risks than me for their education.

All my personal and professional experiences reinforce what the data show: education after high school is the most powerful lever we have to increase economic opportunity and social mobility.

So, I am excited to announce a new effort focused on helping everyone—students, parents, civic leaders, policy makers, and institutions—better understand the economic returns of education beyond high school.

The foundation, in partnership with the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), is launching the Commission on the Value of Postsecondary Education, which I will co-chair with Dr. Millie Garcia of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)—a fantastic partner and dedicated advocate for educational opportunity and equity.

Learn more about the Commission. 

We know that opportunity extends beyond graduation day, but we can and must know more about how much and for whom.

Our goal is simple: propose a definition of value for education after high school and an approach for measuring that value.

Our work is urgent: as the cost of a credential rises and student debt increases to record levels, so doubts are growing that going to college remains a path to opportunity and a healthy, productive life.

“What is college worth?” Everyone asking that question deserves the best answer we can provide.



Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH
CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation