Student loan debt is on the rise. In 2011, 51 percent of first-time, full-time college students had took out student loans, according to the National Center of Education Statistics, an 11 percent increase from 10 years prior. The average size of those loans also increased by 36 percent. During the same period, the country experienced one of the worst recessions in its history, offering college students fewer resources to draw on, in order to offset loans, and dimmer prospects of high-earning employment after graduation. In the latest edition of the College ROI report, PayScale examines which colleges and universities offer the best return and lowest debt load for prospective students.
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Student loan debt has increased primarily because tuition and fees have gone up while income has stagnated. Since 2006, the real value of American workers’ wages has decreased by 7.5 percent, according to The Real Wage Index, which measures the change in earnings with the Consumer Price Index taken into account.
Meanwhile, the cost of attending college increased 46 percent between 2000 and 2011. Funding like Pell Grants, which would pay for school without incurring debt, don’t make up the gap: the maximum Pell Grant for 2009-10 covered 36 percent of the costs of attending a four-year school, according to The American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
So what’s a fiscally responsible student to do? Look for programs and schools that offer the best educational opportunities, with lower loan debt, and more alumni with higher-paying jobs after graduation.
The interactive chart below lets you compare schools based on 20-year net ROI and average student loan debt, to see which offer the best outcomes. As always, your mileage will vary based on major, personal investment in the form of internships and networking opportunities taken, and the economic environment at graduation. But knowing how past students have done post-graduation gives you a big leg up on the college decision process. It takes the guesswork out of determining your odds for building the life you want, once school is in the rearview.
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