College ROI Report: Best Value Colleges

With the average college student graduating with almost $30K in student loans, prospective college students, parents and policymakers are all trying to better understand the value of college education in the job market.  Read More

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1California Institute of Technology (Caltech)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$973,000
Total 4 Year Cost$230,000
Grad Rate92%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$19,000
2Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$972,000
Total 4 Year Cost$232,000
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$32,200
3 (tie)Harvey Mudd College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$945,000
Total 4 Year Cost$249,000
Grad Rate90%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$24,400
3 (tie)SUNY - Maritime College(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$945,000
Total 4 Year Cost$89,000
Grad Rate47%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$32,000
5SUNY - Maritime College(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$908,000
Total 4 Year Cost$126,000
Grad Rate47%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$32,000
6Stanford University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$854,000
Total 4 Year Cost$240,000
Grad Rate95%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$29,100
7Colorado School of Mines(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$846,000
Total 4 Year Cost$118,000
Grad Rate76%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$33,400
8Georgia Institute of Technology(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$833,000
Total 4 Year Cost$91,500
Grad Rate82%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$31,700
9Princeton University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$820,000
Total 4 Year Cost$224,000
Grad Rate97%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$14,100
10Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$811,000
Total 4 Year Cost$243,000
Grad Rate88%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$31,500
11University of California - Berkeley(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$806,000
Total 4 Year Cost$133,000
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,300
12Babson College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$794,000
Total 4 Year Cost$238,000
Grad Rate90%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$30,000
13Massachusetts Maritime Academy(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$787,000
Total 4 Year Cost$86,900
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$32,000
14Kettering University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$785,000
Total 4 Year Cost$199,000
Grad Rate57%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$41,700
15Colorado School of Mines(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$783,000
Total 4 Year Cost$181,000
Grad Rate76%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$33,400

*NOTE: Unranked schools on this list don’t have on-campus living options, so on-campus costs are not available.

This isn't to say that students should only pursue majors with the highest earning potential or make decisions about where to attend school based solely off College ROI Report rankings. However, we currently have 18-year-olds signing on the dotted line for student loans they're not even certain they can pay back. Access to data showing how other alumni following a similar path have fared in the job market is critical to ensuring students are making financial decisions that make sense.

Sticker Price vs. Your Cost to Attend

One big variable in calculating best college values in monetary terms is the cost to attend. Unfortunately, it can be fairly difficult to discern what your true net cost might be. The stated "sticker price" that colleges report to the Department of Education is often not representative of what a majority of students will pay. In a Washington Post article, author and higher ed pundit Jeffrey Selingo wrote "If colleges continue to maintain that so few people actually pay the sticker price, then maybe it's time for them to stop advertising it and develop a new pricing approach that is more realistic and transparent for more of their students."

Colleges will often reduce a student's cost, by supplying financial aid assistance, based on family income and academic success in high school. Schools are required to provide access to net price calculators so that students can estimate their true cost to attend, but not all students are even aware these calculators exist.

"This information gap matters," stated a November 2014 report titled Transparency in College Costs from the Brookings Institution. "Research suggests that providing more information to prospective students regarding what it would actually cost to attend will have a substantive impact on their higher-education decisionmaking."

Student Loan Debt Is Reaching Crisis Levels

In the past, college was a ticket to a brighter future. Now, it's a ticket to immense debt and an uncertain financial future for far too many students. Student loan debt in the U.S. has now topped $1 trillion. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 44 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed -- working in jobs that don't require their degree -- as of 2012.

In a recent report to Congress, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen talked about the struggles of the Millennial generation saying "They're certainly waiting longer to buy houses, to get married. They have a lot of student debt. They seem quite worried about housing as an investment. They've had a tough time in the job market."

Those delays could have a serious impact on the U.S. economy as a whole and specifically the housing market. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic recently wrote "More years of school + more student debt + lower starting salaries + a nervous housing market + stricter rules for new home-buyers = no new home-buyers."

College Return on Investment

No matter how you look at it, college is an investment -- both of time and money. The benefit to this particular investment is that there are returns far beyond the obvious monetary ones. However, the financial aspects of evaluating college return on investment cannot be ignored. And, some schools are simply doing a better job of setting their alumni up for success in the job market. Whether you're planning to study computer science or psychology, earning potential in your chosen field, along with the cost of attendance for the schools you're considering, should be part of the equation when whittling down your list of best return on investment colleges.

To that end, we've provided the ability to view the best value colleges for various majors and career paths as well as evaluate ROI at a school overall. You can see which colleges are providing the best monetary return for their alumni via low cost of attendance, high earning potential or a combination of the two.