Top-Ranked Colleges That Pay Off the Least

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Nick Selbe

Fordham University

The past decade has seen college tuition prices soar at public colleges, with an even steeper increase in student fees. Those fees include the use of campus facilities and operation costs, according to the Washington Post. A similar trend has gone on in private colleges as well: The average cost of tuition and fees at a private, not-for-profit, four-year university in 2015 was $31,231, representing a stark increase, according to CNBC. The college experience has many invaluable benefits, but the return on such a substantial investment remains among the biggest concerns for students and their families to avoid falling into student loan debt.

The data experts at StartClass — a Graphiq site — wanted to see which top-tier colleges paid off the least. To accomplish this, we used our StartClass Rank system to identify the top 100 universities in America. The StartClass Rank is determined based on academic excellence, admissions selectivity, career readiness, financial affordability and expert opinion from U.S. News, Forbes and other credible sources.

With our top 100 colleges selected, we used data from the College Scorecard — an education database released by the White House — to find out which schools had the lowest return on investment. The two key values used to make this calculation were the average annual net price and the median earnings 10-years post-enrollment.

The average annual net price is derived from the full cost of attendance (including tuition and fees, books and supplies, and living expenses) minus federal, state and institutional aid for undergraduate Title IV-receiving students. Net price is often seen as the most useful measure for estimating the cost of attending an institution because it captures the fact that many students do not need to pay the full cost of attendance, as they receive grant aid from the state or federal government or the institution itself.

Median earnings refers to earnings of federally-aided students 10 years after enrollment. Earnings are defined as the sum of wages and deferred compensation, plus positive self-employment earnings as reflected on tax filings. Our list is ranked by the earnings-price ratio, which is calculated as follows:


(Median earnings 10-years post-enrollment – Average annual net price)/Average annual net price

All College Scorecard data is the most recent available. The values for 10-year earnings stem from pooled cohorts for the classes of 2001-02 and are measured in the 2011-12 calendar years. While our data is limited only to those students who received federal financial aid, it’s important to note that this represents about 70 percent of all graduating postsecondary students.

MORE: Check out all of our college data — complete with rankings, admissions, cost and more — on our new Android app.

earnings college