The worth of college degrees is debated both in Pakistan and the USA, though for different reasons. A degree from a good college can get you your dream job in the competitive market of the USA or elsewhere in the civilized world. A degree from a good college in Pakistan can also land you in the plush offices at home. However, a fake degree can open enormous doors for you; you can even become a lawmaker or a cabinet minister in Pakistan. A degree holder works for long hours; a fake-degree holders takes decisions on matters like economic issues, budget, foreign policy, defense etc.

Businessweek has recently published a report and slide show on its website on how to make an informed decision about college because it helps to know what the future holds in store. Few prospective students and their parents have that kind of crystal ball, but if they’re reading this, they have the next best thing: a detailed look at the return on investment that graduates of more than 500 U.S. colleges and universities realized over the past 30 years. It won’t predict how much grads will earn 30 years from now, but it does provide a rough benchmark to begin assessing the relative payback of different undergraduate degrees.

ROI is a function of two things: how much one spends getting a degree, and how much graduates earn. PayScale, which collects pay information from individuals who use its online pay comparison tools, examined a huge database of 1.4 million pay reports and information on college costs. It then determined how much graduates of each school earned (after deducting the cost of their degrees) above the typical pay for a high school graduate over the same period. In a very real sense, this is what a college degree from each institution is “worth” in dollars and cents. Some schools are bargains, other schools less so—and not always the ones you would think.

Unlike most other rankings, this one takes into account each school’s six-year graduation rate, providing a more accurate way of assessing a school’s ROI. For example, graduates of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Notre Dame, after repaying the investment in their respective degrees, both earn almost exactly the same amount over 30 years: about $1.4 million more than a typical high school graduate. But only if you graduate. Notre Dame graduates 96 percent of its students, while Georgia Tech graduates just 77 percent. The result: Georgia Tech’s 30-year ROI is far less than Notre Dame’s, a still-decent $1.1 million.

What follows is a state-by-state breakdown of the schools with the best ROI, regardless of cost. The competition for the top spot in some states was particularly tough. Stanford was a runner-up in California, Columbia was a third-place finisher in New York, and in Massachusetts, Harvard played second fiddle to MIT. For students in those states, there is a true embarrassment of riches.

Advertisements