Enter to learn; go forth to toil in obscurity.

My son was recently admitted to BYU for the upcoming fall semester.  Here are some things about BYU we discovered in the application process:

  • BYU is incredibly cheap.  It is about a tenth the cost of other universities he applied for and twice what we would have to pay for an in-state tuition assuming we could somehow qualify as residents having lived abroad for two and a half years.  When room & board and other incidental costs are included, that gap is narrowed a little so that other schools were only 4 times the cost of BYU.
  • BYU students are smart and good looking.  However, given the number of religious schools on this list I suspect the author is particularly hot for Christians.
  • BYU is very selective.  It is not easy to get in like it was when I attended.  In fact, my ACT score (26) was considered “honors” level when I was accepted in 1986.  According to the distribution chart we saw in 2011 in our son’s guidance counselor office, applicants with a 26 ACT no longer get in unless they have a much better GPA than I had.
  • The return on investment for BYU is nearly unbeatable.  See chart (data pulled from CNN study which did not directly match our own calculations which were higher for NYU and BU based on those schools’ websites).
Total Cost to Graduate ($) 30 Year Net ROI ($) 3 Year Net Return for Grads ($) Annualized Net ROI
NYU                      193,000             729,800                        858,600 9.9
BU                      191,000             702,800                        878,500 9.8
BYU                        58,450             797,000                    1,009,000 14.1
Rise and shout! Your tithing dollars are paying the tuition of the kid who beat your kid out of admission!

My son was admitted with worse grades than I had (and mine were no great shakes) but a significantly better ACT score (33) and as a graduate of a very prestigious international private school.  Even with those pluses, the mission age change may have tipped him over the line.  Based on rankings and prior admission rates shown to us by his guidance counselor, he was on the cusp.

Is College Worth It?

I recently read a great article by James Altucher about why college is no longer a good investment.  He questions the self-sustaining system that encourages us to enter university and follow a specific path, one that has escalating costs and diminishing returns.  By his logic:

  • the return isn’t high enough, and people go into crippling debt to get a degree.  If he [a case study cited] had invested the $104K he spent on college in a savings account with a return of 5% over 50 years, it would have yielded $1.4M.  By contrast, college grads are purported to make on average $800K more over their lifetime than their non-college grad counterparts.  Additionally, the grad / non-grad comparison is not a like for like comparison.  To do that kind of comparison, you’d have to have a case study of individuals who all got accepted to the same school, half of whom attended and got their four-year degree and half of whom didn’t attend college at all.  Nobody has done that study.

He likewise debunks the value of socialization at college because in most cases it consists of sex and vomit.  He decries the idea that college teaches kids to think, making the point that real life experience is what teaches us to think.  On the contrary, he concludes that college is essentially a deferral of real life, and if those 4-5 years were spent in traveling or starting up a business, the individual would be far ahead of peers in career development and income.

But what struck me as I read it was that BYU really is a good investment comparatively.  Tuition is so low that only 31% of students carry debt.  66% of students get financial aid.  And sex and vomit, while not completely absent, are pretty far underground.  I grant him that college is more for indoctrination and light supervision of budding adults than it is for developing critical thinking, and on those fronts, BYU is probably more intrusive than average.

Is BYU Too Cheap?

Which brings me to my titular question:  Is the church over-subsidizing BYU tuition?

  • Tuition is really ridiculously low compared to other schools.  BYU tuition has remained fairly consistent while other schools have increased 400%.  Only 31% of BYU students carry debt!
  • Tuition is this low thanks to tithing contributions, paid for by all members.  Whether their kids attend or not.  And while the number of students admitted remains constant, the number of members subsidizing with no personal benefit has grown.
  • Only 26,000 students are admitted each year, and the bar is higher and higher.  You may in all reality subsidize the education of the kids who took your kid’s spot.
  • Some of those funds could be diverted to help defray mission costs.  The church has recently made a plea for more members to donate to the missionary fund in the wake of the huge influx of new missionaries.

What do you think?  Is college not worth it?  Should we subsidize BYU less now that it’s gotten so much more exclusive?  Should we find new ways to subsidize missions for our youth?