Best Value Public Colleges

Public colleges offer some of the best values for many students, especially if you attend a school in your home state and enjoy lower tuition costs than out-of-state students.  Read More

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1Colorado School of Mines(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$831,000
Total 4 Year Cost$112,000
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$30,480
2Georgia Institute of Technology(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$796,300
Total 4 Year Cost$86,700
Grad Rate82%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$30,600
3Colorado School of Mines(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$771,000
Total 4 Year Cost$172,000
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$30,480
4Virginia Military Institute (VMI)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$767,300
Total 4 Year Cost$95,700
Grad Rate76%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$31,800
5Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$726,000
Total 4 Year Cost$87,000
Grad Rate63%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$26,400
6Georgia Institute of Technology(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$721,300
Total 4 Year Cost$161,700
Grad Rate82%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$30,600
7University of California - Berkeley(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$703,100
Total 4 Year Cost$129,900
Grad Rate91%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
8South Dakota School of Mines & Technology(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$700,900
Total 4 Year Cost$82,100
Grad Rate46%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$27,760
9Massachusetts Maritime Academy(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$694,500
Total 4 Year Cost$88,500
Grad Rate67%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$31,080
10South Dakota School of Mines & Technology(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$692,900
Total 4 Year Cost$90,100
Grad Rate46%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$27,760
11Virginia Military Institute (VMI)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$689,800
Total 4 Year Cost$173,200
Grad Rate76%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$31,800
12New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$680,800
Total 4 Year Cost$122,200
Grad Rate58%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$32,360
13Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$671,700
Total 4 Year Cost$141,300
Grad Rate63%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$26,400
14California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$669,800
Total 4 Year Cost$93,200
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$23,360
15Michigan Technological University(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$661,700
Total 4 Year Cost$101,300
Grad Rate65%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$29,240

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

If you don't want to go into debt to pay for school, a public school may be the right choice for you. Public schools are located in every state in the country. They tend to have high enrollments, which means that they typically offer more activities, events and athletic programs. However, the specific return on investment for each public college varies, so consider using PayScale's College ROI data to identify the best value public colleges before you apply.

The fact that the Colorado School of Mines is ranked fourth on the national College ROI Report is reason enough for it to appear at the top of our list of best value public schools. CSM alumni report a median return of investment of $831,000 without financial aid. With it, that figure soars to $866,200. Located in Golden, Colorado, CSM has a student population of around 5,600 and is split into three colleges: The College of Earth Resource Sciences and Engineering, the College of Applied Science and Engineering and the College of Engineering and Computational Sciences. Ranked 38th on U.S. News and World Report's list of the Top Public Schools, CSM specializes in conferring degrees in engineering and the applied sciences and is a worthwhile option for students who'd like to attend a public school offering an exceptional return on their investment.

With its location in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a fun and exciting place to attend school. Ranked eighth on the national 20 Year Net ROI list, the public university is located on a 400-acre campus and boasts a student population of around 23,100 students. Those who have graduated from one of GT's six colleges report a median return of investment of $796,300 in the 20 years following graduation, and that figure increases to $835,300 with financial aid. Of the many prominent alumni from the school, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is undoubtedly the most noteworthy.

Ranked 11th nationally in terms of 20 Year Net ROI, Virginia Military Institute, or VMI, offers some of the best values in public colleges. Located in Lexington, Virginia, the "West Point of the South" has a student population comprised solely of military cadets. VMI alums report a median return of investment of $767,300, which increases to $813,800 when financial aid is factored in. The prestigious public military college, which was founded in 1839, offers 14 majors and 23 minors in subjects spanning the liberal arts, humanities, sciences and engineering. All students are required to participate in the ROTC, and many of them go on to enjoy very successful careers in the military as well as the public sector.

Rounding out the top public colleges return on investment options is Missouri University of Science and Technology, which is commonly referred to as Missouri S&T. Located in Rolla, Missouri, the school is ranked 14th nationally in terms of 20 Year Net ROI, which equals $726,000 without financial aid and $759,700 with it. Situated on a 284-acre campus, the school has produced many NASA astronauts through the years and is well known for conferring significant numbers of STEM degrees each year. Most of the nearly 8,700 students who attend Missouri S&T per year earn degrees in engineering, computing, math or the sciences, and they go on to enjoy very successful careers in a wide variety of industries.