How College ROI Varies For Students With Federal Aid

How College ROI Varies For Students With Federal Aid

College ROI (return on investment) has been a hot topic in recent years as debate rages about whether a degree from a high-priced university is really worth the time and expense. Now the folks at PayScale, which regularly release data on college ROI and breaks it down by school, has released a fresh set of data filtered through some new information shared with them by the U.S. Department of Education for the first time.

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What is a student’s real college ROI?

The DOE wanted to make it easier to understand the real price students are paying to go to college, even if they are receiving federal financial aid. The new set of data from the agency’s College ScoreCard also looks at what students are paying according to various income level brackets.

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Although PayScale’s full report utilizing the DOE’s information isn’t out yet, the firm did release an infographic highlighting college ROI and average cost for a few major U.S. universities according to income level. The infographic is embedded below.

Among the handful of schools that are listed are Alabama State University, Princeton University, and University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. PayScale did calculations for 20-year net college ROI by income level and average cost by income level.

How college ROI is calculated for those with federal aid

PayScale analyzes data from graduates of the biggest universities in the U.S. and cross references it with the schools’ reported tuition prices, which come from the DOE. Previous reports offered an interesting perspective on how much of a return students could get from their degrees, but this new report should be even more insightful because students who receive financial aid from the federal government aren’t paying full price for the schools they attend. However, it should be noted that this report still can’t include data from students who receive financial aid from other sources, like the university they attend.

One thing analysts noticed was that the percentages of students getting federal aid varies widely by school. For example, just 28% of Princeton students receive federal aid, while the other 72% get it from other sources. This will certainly have an impact on the college ROI of each school, so it will be interesting to see PayScale’s report when it’s released in March. Earlier this year, the firm reported that Harvey Mudd had the best college ROI.

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Michelle Jones is editor-in-chief for and has been with the site since 2012. Previously, she was a television news producer for eight years. She produced the morning news programs for the NBC affiliates in Evansville, Indiana and Huntsville, Alabama and spent a short time at the CBS affiliate in Huntsville. She has experience as a writer and public relations expert for a wide variety of businesses. Email her at
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