PayScale.com, the world’s largest online salary database, recently released a report that showed that tuition of colleges is not created equal when it comes to seeing a good lifetime salary return on your tuition investment. Does that mean that schools with a low return on investment should be avoided? Not necessarily. Salary potential is just one factor in considering a school. Here are a few reasons some students might pay the tuition of colleges with a low financial ROI.
1. Higher mission.
“Ad majorem dei gloriam” reads the motto on Loyola University of Chicago’s school emblem. It translates from Latin to “For the greater glory of God.” When assessing graduate success, Loyola’s public relations team says, “Earnings are one measure of success.” Loyola, for example, takes great pride in its undergraduate coursework that includes volunteerism.
Seattle University, also a Catholic university, focuses on “empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” Jenny Graham, a graduate of Seattle University, said this of her many hours as a volunteer during college, “I think that Seattle U. helped me develop the drive to be in the career that I am in.” Jenny works as a legislative coordinator for the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington State. “Every day I review legislation and write policies that impact families. I feel great about my career.”
2. Plenty of financial aid given out.
“Financial aid can really change the outcomes of the ROI calculation,” says Al Lee, PayScale’s director of quantitative analysis who led PayScale’s ROI study. And, many of the schools that ended up towards the bottom of the list point out that they offer ample financial aid. For example, Loyola of Chicago is ranked 314 out of 852 schools on the ROI list but over 90 percent of their undergraduates receive financial aid.
Willamette University ranks even lower on PayScale’s list at 717 with a measly 6.3 percent return per tuition dollar, exactly half of what top-ranked MIT offers. Candace Hathaway’s son David graduated from Willamette University last June. Regarding finances she says, “We told him how much we would pay, then he got financial aid and worked two jobs to make up the rest.” Does Hathaway regret her son’s decision to attend Willamette? “No way. He loved it. He was ‘Mr. Willamette.’ It was where he wanted to be.”
3. Graduates’ career choices.
After leaving campus with their diplomas in hand, it makes a big difference in the tuition ROI calculation if a student works for Morgan Stanley or volunteers with AmeriCorps. Young people who choose service leave their schools lower on the list.
Amelia Priesthoff graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a degree in studio art. She had an academic scholarship that paid for most of her tuition, then after college she volunteered in the Peace Corps in Africa. “It was a really big growth period and a maturing experience,” says Priesthoff, “If I could make it mandatory for every person, I would.” Priesthoff notes that the Peace Corps can boost a job resume for international work. Was the Peace Corps worth it? “It was a priceless experience,” she says.
4. Top areas of study.
Which schools are the best deals? PayScale’s study showed that in-state, engineering-focused schools offer the best bargains. But, what if you don’t want to be an engineer?
From hospitality to education, many schools specialize in lower-paid careers. For example, Dan Kalmanson, the associate vice president for communications and public affairs at the University of New Haven (ranked 420 in PayScale’s study), points out that UNH offers a highly specialized program in forensic science. Entering the program is competitive and graduates are sought out by major law enforcement agencies like the CIA and FBI. Do they earn as much as aerospace engineers? It’s unlikely. But, they are making a difference, he points out. “We have an Institute for the Study of Violent Groups. Every day, here on our campus, over 100 students are working on data to stop terrorism. We’re proud of that.”
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