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Here are the least and most expensive college degrees

Yahoo Finance's Aarthi Swaminathan talks new data that outlines the average debt of recent graduates, by degree.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: It is back-to-school season. And of course, that also means back-to-college season. But what degree is really worth the cost? Of course, we sit at a time where student loan debt is at a record high. So let's dig into whether or not it makes sense to go one route over the other. And Yahoo Finance's Aarthi Swaminathan joins us with a breakdown, looking at some of those debt levels. Aarthi, what makes sense here?

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Yeah, so basically, we have this concern about rising college costs. We have a student debt crisis. We have policymakers trying to erase student loan debt. So when the Department of Education put out this new treasure trove of data through the College Scorecard, where they basically list out how much debt you take out by degree and also by school, researchers just went crazy on it, right?

So we got a report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation that basically looked at the cheapest bachelor's degree and the most expensive bachelor's degree. We can break it down by state. It's really interesting. Colleges in the Northeast obviously, people take on a little bit more on debt. There's just so many colleges in the Northeast compared to out West where California system funds a lot more scholarships.

But when we look at the cheapest and the most expensive, it's kind of really interesting. So when you look at cheapest, it's international and comparative education that's going to put you $10,000 in debt. Real estate development is going to put you $14,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree. Operations research is the third one.

And then when you look at the most expensive degrees, it was kind of interesting. I thought these would be really high-paying, maybe the ROI is really high. But expensive means electromechanical instrumentation and maintenance technologies and technicians. It's about $40,000 in debt. Behavioral sciences, again $40,000 in debt. So these are pretty high-end there. So you're going to take out a lot of debt.

Maybe you'll make more money. That's not sort of addressed here. But it's about the debt that you take out.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, those are bachelor degrees too. I mean, I was having this discussion last night about whether or not the master's degree winds up being worth it. A lot of people, you have to forego. You're giving up those years where you could be making money to go back to school and pay for it. So what does that look like?

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Yeah. I think it was the New York Fed or someone who said that every year you forgo, it's about a million dollars or something, crazy statistic about the opportunity cost. But when you take an associate's degree, you borrow about $14,000. When you take a bachelor's degree, you, on average, borrow about $23,000. But when you take a master's degree-- we've had this conversation, J school, drama school, all these kinds of highly expensive endeavors, I guess, you take a median of $40,000.

If you want to go even further and take a professional degree, become a vet, become a lawyer, become a doctor, you take a median of $144,000 in debt. And the kind of weird thing is that if you're doing a PhD, it doesn't cost that much as compared to becoming a vet. It's only $73,000 according to this data.

But again, this is a generalized data. It depends on each and every individual situation. If you really want to become a doctor, you should go into that debt because the ROI is pretty high. But this is just the government and researchers trying to introduce more transparency into this mysterious cost of college.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And obviously, it's important if you have a bunch of people in the country at record numbers stacking up that debt. But I guess this is one of those things where there's an invisibility on the other side. You kind of take on all this debt with the hopes that you'll eventually make enough money to pay it off. But as we've seen, certainly in some for-profit schools, that has never panned out.

But generally, I believe-- and you would know better than I do-- that the stats do point to it still does make sense to go to college, right?

AARTHI SWAMINATHAN: Yes, it still does make sense because we saw, for a very short period of time before COVID, that it didn't really matter. Even if you didn't have a college degree, you could still get employed. But right now, we saw through the pandemic, that those who had a college education, they were the ones who were able to transition to work from home. A lot of people who don't have a college degree, there is a correlation with them being on minimum wage, working in industries that are very customer-facing.

So having a college degree, at least during this time, has proved to have some benefits. But again, the ROI on certain majors, especially those highly paying ones, it still makes college a worthy investment.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah. And if you want to chirp your friends who got a master's degree and might still be paying it off, you can go find Aarthi's story on YahooFinance.com. Send them the link. I'm sure they'll appreciate it. Aarthi Swaminathan bringing us the latest there. Thanks again for that.