Fed economists Mary Daly and Leila Bengali explore this question in a new research paper. Their conclusion? Based on lifetime earnings, yes: “for the average student, tuition costs for the majority of college education opportunities in the United States can be recouped by age 40, after which college graduates continue to earn a return on their investment in the form of higher lifetime wages.”

They note several important caveats:

  • The “breakeven” tuition rate, i.e. the cost at which the typical college graduate will recoup the cost of college in 20 years through increased earnings is $21,200.
  • Although many colleges cost more than that breakeven rate, “there is no definitive evidence that they produce far superior results for all students.”

The paper includes a tuition calculator that allows you to enter your own data and scenarios. Read the entire paper and access the calculator here.