Businessweek post misleads about ROI

by University Communications,

A 2010 Businessweek post negatively depicts Willamette’s “Return on Investment” (or ROI), listing us first among a group of colleges with a poor career earnings-to-cost ratio. The same analysis named Willamette a “runner up” for best ROI in Oregon.

Willamette didn’t have the underlying data when asked to respond to a vague, negative assertion about our ROI. Upon publication of the methodology and data, the flaw was clear enough that Businessweek addressed it the following year:

“The big change had to do with financial aid. Last year, we used each school’s "sticker price" to determine ROI. We did that again this year, but we also did a second calculation using the "net price," which takes into account the amount of grant aid each school awards. We think the two different calculations more accurately reflect the actual experience of students and their families…”

By omitting financial assistance, Businessweek grossly inflated the “investment” or “cost” of attending Willamette specifically and private
colleges in general.

At Willamette, almost all students receive financial assistance from the university as part of their financial aid packages. About a third of students don’t have demonstrated need (per FAFSA, the federal student aid application). These students are eligible for merit-based aid at Willamette, and, in 2010, the university provided an average of $12,500 in financial assistance to this third of undergraduates. For the two-thirds of undergraduates demonstrating need, financial aid packages were $31,300 on average. These are average, annual amounts for each student. Multiplying these figures by years of attendance (typically four) illustrates the scale by which the 2010 post misrepresents cost.

Since 2010, Willamette has developed a value infographic which helps visualize Willamette’s ROI in terms of actual costs, debt and educational quality.

In simple terms, Willamette students’ debt levels are average because the university offers such significant financial assistance and because Willamette students graduate in fewer years than average. It’s easy to lose sight of education quality - which is where Willamette shines brightest - when parsing fiscal data. Nevertheless, even through the lens of earnings alone, a recent PayScale report puts Willamette among the top 25 liberal arts colleges for its graduates’ mid-career earnings.

While it is not easy or perhaps even possible to easily sum up the value of brilliant faculty in small classes, the 2010 Businessweek post fails to consider actual costs and fundamentally misrepresents the return on an investment in a Willamette education.