Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

WSSU highlights health care, education as bright spots in new ROI report

Voiced by Amazon Polly

North Carolina’s state legislature recently requested and funded a report evaluating the return on investment (ROI) of programs within the UNC System. The final report was released in February.

Conducted by Deloitte along with the RPK Group and the Burning Glass Institute, the report estimates ROI by calculating “lifetime earnings minus the costs of college.” Further, the report draws correlations between programs of study, career roles, starting compensation, and expected career earnings. Three dashboards allow users to review data pertaining to institutional context, student ROI, and state ROI.

The report assessed 603 undergraduate programs and 315 graduate programs across the 16 UNC institutions between 2015 and 2020. According to the report, 93% of these 918 programs had a positive ROI for students.

By comparing the expected lifetime earnings of UNC graduates to those without a college degree, the report found a median incremental lifetime ROI of $497,123 for an undergraduate student who completes a degree and $919,422 for a graduate student who completes a degree. 

The report does list limitations of the analysis, including the fact that the dataset excluded three important categories: graduates working outside North Carolina, individuals who are self-employed, and federal government employees (including military). Despite these limitations, students, institutions, and the state are using the data to identify bright spots across programs.

Winston-Salem State University’s ROI across degree programs

Dr. Anthony Graham, interim chancellor at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), shared that their institutional data from the report revealed a positive ROI for 98% of their degree programs. One area that stood out was health-related programs.

Across all 16 UNC institutions, the report found that 96% of “health professions and related services” programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level had a positive ROI. At WSSU, this degree area was the top regarding median lifetime ROI.

Dr. Graham shared that approximately 56% of students who come to WSSU as freshmen declare pre-nursing as their major. 

“We want to make certain that we’re putting in place programs, initiatives, scholarships, and so forth that will ensure that the 56% that raise their hand to say I want to do something in the health care space upon graduation four years later can actualize that dream,” Graham stated.

Dr. Deanna Townsend-Smith, Senior Director of the Dudley Flood Center, and Dr. Anthony Graham, WSSU Interim Chancellor and DRIVE Task Force Chair. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Dr. Clifton Kenon Jr. credits his third grade teacher, Maggie Newkirk, and fourth grade teacher, L’nette Stokes (both WSSU alumnae), with influencing him to attend WSSU. After completing his associate degree at James Sprunt Community College, he went on to earn his bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) from WSSU, which he says was one of the greatest decisions he has ever made.

Kenon shared that WSSU prepared him “to see nursing as a broad and very dynamic profession and to consider opportunities that were non-traditional and prepared us for leadership.”

Upon receiving his BSN, Kenon said his professors supported him in transitioning to a master’s program, followed by a doctorate. Kenon is now a member of the senior service in the federal government and the ranking career member in the office of the administrator at the United States Agency for International Development. 

Reflecting on his journey, Kenon said that the “return on investment is second to none.” 

“A degree from Winston-Salem State University has taken me to the senior service, to over 30 countries in the world, has allowed me to be at the top of the federal government as far as position,” he said. “I think the return on investment is infinity to one.”

High ROI for education programs

The ROI report also found that 98% of education programs at the undergraduate and graduate level provided a positive ROI for students across all 16 institutions. Dr. Graham lists education among the critical workforce areas that “a lot of people don’t think about when you start talking about ROI.”

Tiffani Cash is the 2023 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Classified Employee of the Year. In December 2023, she graduated summa cum laude with her master’s degree from WSSU as a part of the district’s Transition 2 Teach program. The program helps teacher assistants advance in the field by offering financial support to earn a teaching license.

When speaking about her time at WSSU, Cash stated that “not only did they give me the resources I needed to be successful, they were there to offer support. They (did) not leave me in oblivion to figure it out by myself, and I think that’s what made the difference.”

“Dr. Brenda Kennedy, Dr. Kimberly Pemberton, Dr. Cynthia Wooten, and Dr. Cynthia Brown are the beats and sounds of the education department. … They were thorough. They ensured I understood before they sent me out into the world, before they sent me out to represent Winston-Salem State University, the requirements and expectations at this caliber in my pedagogy or in my collegiate career. They were the hearts and souls.”

– Tiffani Cash, WSSU alumna and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County employee

Cash said that WSSU didn’t just teach her theory, but rather, she was taught how to apply it to today’s students.

“Winston-Salem State had me do this in real time and gave me the opportunity to apply it, to see where I can go and where I can grow from there. So far, I’ve been having great success,” Cash said. 

Since entering the field, Cash stated that she has been able to embrace several other opportunities as well, including serving on the board of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Education Foundation. She is also a member of DRIVE for Forsyth, a localized continuation of the statewide DRIVE task force. These are among the engagements for which Cash credits WSSU for preparing her beyond the classroom.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s DRIVE Task Force at Winston-Salem State University final tour stop. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Looking ahead

In all, Graham said the ROI study is helping the university to think more critically about their existing degree programs, including whether the curriculum and the programming design optimizes the opportunity for ROI.

Some considerations that he listed include curriculum design and development so that students continue to get real world experiences through things such as internships or preceptorships. Graham also referred to the necessity of partnerships such as DRIVE for Forsyth, which he sees as areas for potential development of opportunities.

Graham also recommended engaging with entities beyond the university as one way to solidify vertical alignment, allowing advisory councils to look at content, competencies, and skills being taught to ensure that programs remain significant, relevant, and timely.

“Those are the types of things that this ROI study is really challenging us to think more differently about,” Graham said.

Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.