Is Higher Education Economically Unsustainable? An Exploration of Factors that Undermine Sustainability Assessments of Higher Education

Antonios Maragakis 1 , Andy van den Dobbelsteen 2 , and Alexandros Maragakis 3
  • 1 Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • 2 Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • 3 Eastern Michigan University, the United States of America


As students continue to review the sustainability of higher education institutions, there is a growing need to understand the economic returns of degrees as a function of a sustainable institution. This paper reviews a range of international research to summarize the economic drivers of higher education attainment. Although the cost inputs to higher education are fairly well understood, the economic return of a degree is not. Students misperception of economic returns coupled with a dynamic definition of employability create the framework for unsustainable debt loads for graduates. This paper proposes three metrics that can be used to assess the economic sustainability of students graduating higher education that can be used to supplement the broader definition of sustainability within higher education.

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