Attending college is one of the most expensive investments an individual will ever make. Now that over 70 percent of graduating seniors can expect to enter the workforce with an average student loan debt of $29,400, choosing a college degree with the highest possible return on a student’s investment is becoming more and more of a priority.
BestColleges is here to help students weigh the costs and benefits of their educational options. Using data collected by Payscale.com, we’ve put together a list of 50 public schools that offer in-state students the highest return on their tuition dollar. “Return on Investment” or ROI rankings for each school are primarily comprised from two factors — the true cost of attending a school weighed against the median earning power of its graduates over 30 years.
Our dataset is based off of information collected by Payscale.com’s 2013 list of ROI rankings. The rankings were determined using Payscale’s employee surveys and they reflect the value of a school based upon average total costs, financial aid packages and the salary levels and employability of its graduates.
This is how each data variable is defined:
- Cost: This cost represents the total expense of tuition and fees, room and board as well as the books and supplies in-state students can expect to spend to complete a four year degree at this institution. (Costs are based upon 2012 figures provided by the IPEDS.)
- 30 Year Net ROI: This figure represents the amount of money earned by an individual over the course of 30 years minus the total cost of tuition at the time he or she graduated.
- Percent of Students Receiving Financial Aid: This figure indicates the percentage of students enrolled at a particular school that receive loans, grants, scholarships, and other monetary rewards used to finance tuition, room and board, and other academic expenses.
- Average Aid Amount: This number is calculated by tallying up the total amount of financial aid received by all students at a given school, and then dividing it by the number of students receiving aid.
- 30 Years ROI with Aid: This figure is calculated the same way as the 30 Year Net ROI, except that the student’s net (not total) college costs are subtracted from his or her career earnings.
How to Interpret the Data
Some of the highest ranking schools may surprise you. That’s because more prestigious schools are often more expensive (possibly disproportionately expensive) and cannot offer the same return on each tuition dollar that a lower-cost school, like a technical college, might.
For instance, according to the data, SUNY’s Maritime College in the Bronx offers its students the highest ROI of any public school in the country. The survey found that the 30 year median salary of SUNY Maritime graduates is very close to the median salary for MIT grad — $1,586,000 compared to $1,606,000, respectively. But depending on your financial aid situation or your post-college plans, SUNY Maritime might offer you a better ROI. This year, the projected total cost of a bachelor’s degree from SUNY is only $90,530. Students enrolling at MIT this year can expect to pay the hefty sticker price of $215,000 for their four year degree.
It’s important to keep in mind that this list measures the ROI of a bachelor’s degree in terms of dollars and cents only. If you are not interested in choosing a career within the narrower professional scope for which a degree from SUNY Maritime or the Colorado School of Mines would prepare you, you shouldn’t choose your school based upon tuition and salary rates alone.
If you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree, this survey will be less useful for you. This Payscale dataset only includes information on bachelor’s degree programs. Survey results from employees that hold Master’s degrees, an MBA, MD, JD, PhD or any other advanced degree were not included in this data.