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Getting Paid Back for a College Education: 15 Top Schools

This article was written by in Education. 5 comments.


If the only value of higher education is the money you earn throughout your lifetime with your college degree, then SmartMoney’s recent study might help you decide where to matriculate. Ivy League schools don’t pay off as much as one might expect. The magazine surveyed the annual salaries earned by graduates of 50 of the most expensive four-year schools, three years and fifteen years after graduation. The data were used to determine a “payback ratio.” You can compare payback ratios of different schools to get an idea of whether and how fast the cost of tuition will pay off in terms of income earned.

Here is what SmartMoney has to say about this survey’s approach:

Ultimately, we weren’t trying to measure the quality of education or colleges’ selectivity. Other rankings take ample care of that, and dedicated students will thrive at any of these fine schools. But with boutique private colleges coming under heavy criticism for spiraling costs, our payback numbers certainly raise questions about the actual “return” on an educational investment.

“Return” is more than the financial benefits you receive from an education, and putting that aside to look just at the dollars creates an interesting comparison. But this shouldn’t be the only factor or the deciding factor when choosing a college. There is a tendency for business-minded folk to measure everything through “ROI” (return on investment) or to look purely at numbers through a “cost/benefit analysis.” Decisions based on pure financial anlysis don’t necessarily result in happiness or satisfaction with long-term goals.

Here are the top 5 public schools, liberal arts schools, and Ivy League schools based on SmartMoney’s “payback ratio.”

Top 5 public schools

  1. University of Georgia: 338%
  2. Texas A&M: 315%
  3. University of Texas, Austin: 306%
  4. Georgia Tech: 263%
  5. University of Washington: 225%

Top 5 liberal arts schools

  1. Washington and Lee: 145%
  2. University of Richmond: 130%
  3. Lafayette College: 115%
  4. College of the Holy Cross: 114%
  5. Bucknell College: 114%

Top 5 Ivy League schools

  1. Princeton: 132%
  2. Dartmouth College: 131%
  3. Yale University: 127%
  4. Harvard University: 124%
  5. University of Pennsylvania: 124%

Updated January 16, 2010 and originally published December 18, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Kyle

Love the photo of my alma mater’s football stadium. The UGA numbers must to be wrong, though. Cow milking can’t possibly pay that well.

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avatar matt @ Thrive

I think you hit it on the head, Flexo, when you noted that ROI is a pretty poor way of actually understanding the happiness you derive from an experience. After all, liberal arts schools have the lowest return in this survey financially, and yet breed some of the best and brightest in the country. It is simply that best and brightest rarely maps to “most highly paid”. *grins*

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avatar Steven

Nice to see that GA Tech is high up on that list (I am a current student), but as Kyle stated, U[sic]GA’s numbers have to be wrong.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,495 (Platinum)

Hm, sounds like an intra-Georgia rivalry.

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avatar Tango&Cash

Higher education has too many faces now, and while I’m not so scathing as to label it just another product, to most people and in many ways it is.

It is brand driven, so the economic reality for most liberal arts students is that they pay exorbitantly for what they actually get from “most competitive” universities/corporations. The industrial consumer education complex’s idea of “super sizing” tuition needs to die, and hopefully will soon.

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