U.Va. tops list of best colleges based on annual return on investment

PayScale releases rankings of best colleges, majors by investment value


U.Va. ranked best ROI value dollar-for-dollar by PayScale.

Jenna Truong | Cavalier Daily

The University recently ranked number one in a study focused on dollar-for-dollar college investment value. Graduates from more than 800 universities and colleges across the country were included in the study, sponsored by the research firm PayScale.

PayScale, an online company that tracks and reports salary and compensation data, initiated the study to determine the most valuable college education in the country. Researchers employed two scales in their analysis: the first using graduate income surveys to estimate the income a graduate will accumulate in two decades, and the second measuring the annual return on investment, which breaks down the overall financial advantage of specific schools and programs.

Harvey Mudd College, a small science and engineering school in California, topped the list of highest earning graduates for the next 20 years.Harvey Mudd graduates in 2013 spent a total of $116,000 for four years of tuition, and according to the study, will have an annual ROI of 12.6 percent and a 20-year net ROI of $1,094,000.

Other universities in the top 10 list include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Babson College, Princeton University, Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Dartmouth College and Harvard University.

Though graduates of Harvey Mudd boast the highest calculated 20-year net ROI, the price to attend is higher than most of the listed universities due to differences in aid.

The study also includes annualized ROI, which ranks the universities according to greatest payoff. Using this dollar-for-dollar scale, PayScale found that, for an in-state student, the University is the most profitable college investment. Schools that make up the best dollar-for-dollar investments based on annualized ROI include Georgia Tech, Harvard University, The College of William & Mary, the University of Washington, the University of Texas at Dallas, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Stanford University, Cooper Union and the University of Michigan.

University spokesperson McGregor McCance said the PayScale research suggests students from the University are obtaining successful jobs post-graduation.

“We perform well in this study in part because of the combination of relatively low net-tuition and the high starting salaries that graduates have reported to PayScale,” McCance said in an email. “This is one of the very few universities that does not give any consideration to an applicant’s financial background in deciding whether to make an offer of admission … [and] is one of the few public universities with a commitment to meet 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need.”

The study found the top 10 most valuable degrees in the United States are in computer science, from Stanford, Columbia, UC-Berkeley, Harvey Mudd, MIT, Harvard, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington, and Carnegie Mellon, respectively, as well as degrees in economics from Stanford.

Though those programs offer the largest 20-year return on investment, the analysis also determined that a degree from the University of Virginia as an in-state student is the best dollar-for-dollar investment. According to a review of the study in The Atlantic, “a degree in business, or computer science, or engineering, or economics at U.Va. has a higher dollar-for-dollar return than any major at any other school in the country.”

McCance said that though rankings in general are a positive affirmation of the value of degrees offered at the University, the primary focus is quality education for students.

“Rankings in general give prospective students and their families, and employers seeking to hire, another way to make decisions and judgments about a university and its programs,” McCance said. “We try to keep our focus on quality and the rankings will take care of themselves.”

McCance emphasized the positive payoff in general of an investment in higher education.

“The PayScale research is another affirmation of the value of obtaining a college degree,” McCance said. “Ample research points to the increased earning power and career opportunities of those who graduate from college versus those who do not.”

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