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The 10 Colleges with the Best 20-year Return on Investment


Whether you're saving for, attending, or paying off college, higher education is an investment most of the professional world is dealing with. Right now, the average college kid graduates with roughly $30,000 in debt. So what schools can provide the best return on this enormous investment?

College Students

Whether you’re saving for, attending, or paying off college, higher education is an investment most of the professional world is dealing with. Right now, the average college kid graduates with roughly $30,000 in debt. So what schools can provide the best return on this enormous investment?

PayScale.com issued its 2015 College ROI Report recently, using information gathered from surveying alumni from more than 1,000 schools around the country. In addition to the full list, they break down by state, major, career, with or without financial aid, and several other different filters. For parents helping high school students pick a college or university, this site could be invaluable.

Some trends from the 2015 report include technical institutes leading the way, as well as private schools. Most of the schools with the best long-term ROI are found in coastal states—both east and west—possibly because of the higher cost of living, and therefore salaries.

Here we look at the 10 best 20-year net return on investment schools, not including financial aid.

Colorado School of Mines

(Out of state)

20-year ROI: $771,000

Total 4-year cost: $172,000

With entry-level salaries ranging between $80,000 and $100,000, petroleum engineering is the most lucrative major available, and students from Colorado School of Mines are some of the best coming out of college. The school claims to have the highest admission standards of any public school in Colorado, which might explain some the draw for out-of-state students, despite an average $60,000 increase in cost of attendance over in-state students.



20-year ROI: $795,000

Total 4-year cost: $217,300

US Presidents are some of the most famous alumni of this Ivy League school, but it’s the doctors, educators, and engineers from Princeton who pull in the big bucks. Unfortunately, according to PayScale, male graduates find starting salaries around $110,000, while female graduates average $66,000.

Georgia Tech

(In state)

20-year ROI: $796,300

Total 4-year cost: $86,700

Georgia Tech is the second-highest ranked public university on the list, and recent grads from the Atlanta research school pull in nearly $62,000 a year. More than 70% of students are involved in STEM fields, which automatically puts alumni in a good position to recoup their educational investment.



20-year ROI: $798,500

Total 4-year cost: $224,500

In addition to churning out Chief Technology Officers and high-level engineers, MIT also produces very well-compensated professors. Alumni also help shape national policy, working to get more young adults to a financially secure position. With the number one engineering program in the nation, MIT will continue to produce graduates who can command high starting salaries.



20-year ROI: $809,700

Total 4-year cost: $233,300

Stanford grads don’t really have to shake too many trees to reach a high earning potential. The median salary for Stanford alums working as senior software engineers is upwards of $123,000 a year, while Cardinal marketing directors have a median salary of $131,469. With top-tier business, medical and law schools, Stanford offers a wide variety of high-earning-potential graduate programs.

Babson College


20-year ROI: $812,800

Total 4-year cost: $230,200

Babson prides itself on its focus on entrepreneurship, leading to the Wellesley, MA, school being on several financial news outlets’ top colleges lists. The school also boasts some international flair, with students from more than 80 countries represented among the 2,100 undergraduate and 900 graduate students. For 2 years straight, Babson has been PayScale’s #1 20-year ROI for business schools.

Colorado School of Mines

(In state)

20-year ROI: $831,000

Total 4-year cost: $112,000

Getting the in-state tuition rate is definitely worth it if Colorado School of Mines is the higher learning institute of choice — the cost of attending can be around $60,000 less than out of state tuition. Since PayScale.com says the typical grad earns $67,900 a year early in their career, that’s an additional year of earning power for native Coloradans.



20-year ROI: $841,000

Total 4-year cost: $232,000

The Hoboken, NJ, school is home to one of the state’s technology incubators, and according to NJBIZ, its seniors are often weighing more than one job offer before they graduate. That’s a good thing, considering, among the top 10 schools, Stevens grads have the highest amount of student loans ($44,000).

Cal Tech


20-year ROI: $901,400

Total 4-year cost: $221,600

This Pasadena, CA, college has a list of influential alumni — including Nobel laureates – that have made “groundbreaking discoveries … (which) have led directly to social and economic improvements,” including breakthroughs on lead pollution, pharmaceuticals, and DNA sequencing. The founders of companies like DirectTV and Intel are CalTech graduates. Current graduates are in high demand in fields like medicine, sustainable energy and aerospace. Caltech is also the “academic home” of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Harvey Mudd


20-year ROI: $985,300

Total 4-year cost: $237,700

This tiny college in Claremont, CA, has roughly 800 students and focuses entirely on the sciences. “Mudd offers nine engineering, science and mathematics-based majors, all grounded in a solid core curriculum that includes a healthy dose of humanities and social science courses,” the school’s website says. Named after a mining engineer and established in the 1950s, the more-than 6,000 alumni average a starting salary between $75,000 and $80,000, and nearly 40% of students go on to graduate or professional schools.


Top 20-year ROI for those who go into health care careers:

UT Arlington

(In state)

20-year ROI: $596,400

Total 4-year cost: $86,600

UT-Arlington has the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, in addition to a robust offering of undergraduate sciences and research institutes. The school is the largest non-profit nursing program in the US, with 8,000 on-line and on-campus students. If financial aid were factored in, though, UT-Arlington would drop to second on the list for health care careers, and New York University becomes the top 20-year ROI at $666,100.

To read PayScale’s full report, click here: 2015 College ROI Report

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