College ROI Report: Best Value Colleges

With the average college student graduating with tens-of-thousands of dollars in student loans, prospective college students, parents and policymakers are all trying to better understand the value of college education, particularly as it applies to future decisions in the job market.  Read More

Find Out Exactly What You
Should Be Paid


1045 (tie)Longwood University(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$167,000
Total 4 Year Cost$98,200
Grad Rate66%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$28,400
1045 (tie)Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) - Altoona Campus(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$167,000
Total 4 Year Cost$153,000
Grad Rate65%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$34,000
1045 (tie)Radford University(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$167,000
Total 4 Year Cost$133,000
Grad Rate59%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$29,400
1045 (tie)University of Central Missouri(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$167,000
Total 4 Year Cost$100,000
Grad Rate53%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$27,000
1045 (tie)University of Memphis (U of M)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$167,000
Total 4 Year Cost$147,000
Grad Rate44%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$22,300
1056 (tie)Central Michigan University(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$138,000
Grad Rate56%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$27,800
1056 (tie)Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (A&M) University (FAMU)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$127,000
Grad Rate40%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$26,200
1056 (tie)Franklin Pierce University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$187,000
Grad Rate46%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$33,600
1056 (tie)Fresno Pacific University(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$151,000
Grad Rate63%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$31,000
1056 (tie)Grand Valley State University(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$88,000
Grad Rate65%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$26,100
1056 (tie)Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU)(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$105,000
Grad Rate55%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$25,500
1056 (tie)Thomas College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$144,000
Grad Rate43%
Time to Graduate5 Years
Loan Amt$34,100
1056 (tie)Western Carolina University(In-State)
20 Year Net ROI$166,000
Total 4 Year Cost$75,400
Grad Rate58%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$24,200
1064Massachusetts College of Art and Design(Out-of-State)
20 Year Net ROI$165,000
Total 4 Year Cost$182,000
Grad Rate70%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$38,000
1065 (tie)Messiah College(Private)
20 Year Net ROI$164,000
Total 4 Year Cost$174,000
Grad Rate80%
Time to Graduate4 Years
Loan Amt$37,200

*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. But it makes sense to provide as much information as possible to 18-year-olds signing on the dotted line for student loans… loans they may not even be 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 decision making."

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 report to Congress, then-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 wrote in 2014 "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.