college graduate holding diploma
Story Affordability

Is College Worth It? Three Reasons Why the CSU Isn't Something to Sleep On

Alisia Ruble

The value of a college degree, especially one earned at the CSU, remains undeniably high.

college graduate holding diploma

​Photo courtesy of Fresno State/Cary Edmonson


​Earning a college degree is the best investment you can make in yourself. With more than 4,000 degree programs, the California State University offers abundant opportunities to discover your life's purpose, learn a new skill or move up in your career.

Here are three facts that prove a CSU degree is still undeniably worth it.

1. College graduates earn more money  

According to a report by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), bachelor's degree holders earn a median of $2.8 million during their career, 75% more than if they had only a high school diploma. These lifetime earnings increase with master's and doctoral degrees, but it matters a great deal which institution and major students choose.​

“It really pays to look at outcomes and not be blinded by the brand name," CEW Director of Editorial and Education Policy Martin Van Der Werf said in a recent LA Times article​. “The best brand name doesn't necessarily mean it's going to result in the highest life earnings."

Additionally, da​ta compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that those with bachelor's degrees had a 2.2% unemployment rate in 2022, while high school graduates with no college education had a 4% unemployment rate. In addition to having higher earnings and lower rates of unemployment, college graduates are more likely to own a home and less likely to be in poverty or need social services, according to findings from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

A new analysis of federal data by the HEA Group shows CSU graduates stand to make as much, if not more, than graduates of other universities where students pay double or more in tuition. A recent article about the analysis​ reported that, "Among computer engineering majors, for instance, San José State graduates earn a median​ $127,047 four years after graduation—​nearly the same as UCLA's $128,131 and more than USC's $115,102, as well as seven other UC campuses that offer the major. CSU graduates in that field from Chico, Long Beach, Fresno, Fullerton, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo earn more than $90,000 annually." 

“The CSU system has really been shown as a pillar of producing economic mobility for its students...They're really at the top of the list of affordability and outcomes.”
—Michael Itzkowitz, HEA Group President

2. A CSU degree is less expensive than you might think

The CSU remains committed to keeping college affordable for all Californians through a combination of low tuition and generous ​​​ financial aid options that include grants, scholarships and fellowships and work-study. CSU tuition is among the lowest in​​ the country and hasn't risen more than once in the past decade. Even with potential moderate tuition increases, the average cost of attendance will remain below the national average of comparison institutions​. ​

For in-state students with a household income of $75k or less, CSU tuition is typically $0.

More than 80% of CSU undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid and 60% have their tuition completely covered by grants and waivers. For in-state students with a household income of $75,000 or less, CSU tuition is typically​ $0. ​

During the 2021-22 academic year, nearly $4.25 billion was distributed to more than 383,000 CSU students. The average​ award was $11,070—nearly double the cost of tuition—which students can use to pay for housing, food and other living expenses. Grants and scholarships are also available for undocumented students who are ineligible for federal financial aid.

And, more than half of CSU undergraduates finish with zero student loan debt, and those who do take on loans graduate with about half as much debt as the national average and well below the state average.

For those who need help paying for essentials outside the classroom, the university has a robust student well-being and basic needs program that includes CalFresh application assistance and access to food distribution programs on each of the 23 campuses.

3​.​  CSU is nationally ranked for high return on investment

While the CSU is well represented in national university rankings​, they rank particularly high in ones that put the most emphasis on return on investment and positive student outcomes.

California State Universities were at the top of Money Magazine's 2023 list of the “Best Public Colleges in America" for providing an excellent value for in-state students, and in its list of the “Best Colleges in the West."

The CSU also dominated Washington Monthly's 2023 list of the “Best Bang for the Buck​" schools in the West, with Cal State LA earning the top spot. The CSU represented more than half of the top 20 schools, and all 23 universities in the CSU system ranked in the top 30% of the list.​

The transformative power of a CSU degree is regularly recognized in rankings that place great importance on economic mobility. All 23 universities are included in CollegeNET's most recent “Social Mobility Index" (SMI), which measures the extent to which a college or university educates more economically disadvantaged students—with family incomes below the national median—at lower tuition and graduates them into good paying jobs. CSU San Marcos, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State LA and Cal State Bakersfield were all among the top 10 of the SMI, with CSUSM coming in at N​o. 1 in the nation.​ ​

First-generation college graduate Jeremy Addis-Mills (CSUSM '07) credits his time at the CSU with his success as a leader in his field. 

"I chose to attend CSUSM because of its affordability and its proximity to where I was living, but it turned into a fantastic experience," Addis-Mills said in a recent article. "My advice to future students is to focus on what is interesting to you because, in the end, the value of any degree is better than no degree at all."

Addis-Mills founded his global communications agency, Digital Impact &​, in 2017 and currently serves as Immediate Past President for the CSU Alumni Council​.​  

“My CSU experience had such a profound impact on me, and as an employer I think higher education is critical to moving up in the world.”
—Jeremy Addis-Mills (CSUSM '07), President and Founder of Digital Impact & 

The California State University is accepting applications for the spring 2024 term through August 31, 2023 and will begin accepting applications for fall 2024 on October 1, 2023. To learn more about degree programs at each of the CSU's 23 universities, visit the Cal State Apply portal.