The Economics of BA Ambivalence: The Case of California Higher Education

Raimundo Esteva, MIT
Alan Benson, University of Minnesota
Publication Date:
Jan 2013
Project Programs:
Future of Work

Using data from California’s higher education systems, this paper estimates individuals’ and society’s economic returns to a Bachelor’s (BA) degree and evaluates the quality of a beginning a BA program as an investment. We adjust for a fuller range of factors than are typically considered in prior evaluations including non-completion, timeto- degree, accelerating marginal income taxes, and risk. Although each of these adjustments reduces the estimated return to a beginning BA program, we find doing so generally remains a good investment for individuals and society. However, rising tuition and the widening distribution of earnings among those who begin BA programs has increased the risk individuals do not recoup their investments.


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