College Degrees Get an Audit

There's no perfect measure of a college education's value—earnings power is but one. Grads of top schools will earn $1 million more than a typical high school grad, according to new research. PayScale, a Seattle-based company that collects wage information, pegs the average 30-year net return on investment for 554 schools at 9 percent. Only 88 schools had an ROI that topped the total return for the S&P 500 over the same period.


Schools with the best 30-year net ROI over wages earned by a typical high school graduate

School                         Total cost      ROI

1. MIT $189,300 $1,688,000
2. Calif. Inst. of Technology 181,100 1,644,000
3. Harvard 189,600 1,631,000
4. Harvey Mudd 187,700 1,627,000
5. Dartmouth 188,400 1,587,000
6. Stanford 191,800 1,565,000
7. Princeton 187,700 1,517,000
8. Yale 194,200 1,392,000
9. Notre Dame 181,900 1,384,000
10. Univ. of Pennsylvania 191,300 1,361,000


30-year net return on investment is the difference between the amount earned by graduates from 1980 to 2009 and the earnings of a typical high school graduate, after deducting the cost of obtaining an undergraduate degree. It takes into account the likelihood of never graduating. ROI for public schools in the study was calculated using both in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition; figures shown for public schools include both. Total cost includes tuition fees plus other expenses for the number of years it takes most students to graduate.

Data: Payscale, Bloomberg

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