College ROI

Payscale recently published a list of return on investment for various colleges. This was then picked up by BusinessWeek, so I'm sure lots of people have seen it. As published, the list is dominated by elite private schools, but the reason for this is they chose to sort the list by their estimate of 30 Year Net Return on Investment. This benefits the more expensive private schools, because graduates of MIT do indeed make a lot of money, but the cost of attending MIT is pretty high too.

If you sort the list by annualized ROI instead, you get an actual comparison by rate of return, which is probably more interesting.

In addition to the cost of college, there is also the question of where you will be accepted. MIT is pretty hard to get into. I think the relevant question here is, where can I get the most bang for my buck at a college that will accept me? In order to answer this question, I used the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator to find the 25th percentile SAT scores for the top 50 schools on both the list sorted by 30 year net return, and annualized rate of return.The idea here is to find a school where one would be more easily accepted, and also to see what the school can do with below average college students.

I made these into comma-delimited files.

Payscale's table

Top 50 by 30 year net return

Top 50 by annualized rate

I plotted both of these versus the total of reading and math scores. Some schools report a writing score too, but since not all schools use this, I didn't plot it. On each graph, I highlighted schools that seem to have a high rate of return relative to their 25th percentile SAT scores. There is considerable overlap between the two lists, so you see the same schools in each graph come out on top.

Top 50 Schools by 30 Year Net Return

Top 50 Schools by Annualized Rate of Return

Here is a list of the highlighted schools by annualized rate of return:

  1. Georgia Institute of Technology
  2. University of Virginia (UVA)
  3. Brigham Young University (BYU)
  4. Colorado School of Mines
  5. College of William and Mary
  6. University of California, Berkeley
  7. University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)
  8. University of Michigan
  9. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)
  10. University of Florida (UF)
  11. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNCH)
  12. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (CalPoly)

All of these are public schools, with the exception of BYU, but BYU is cheap because of the support of the LDS. The highest 25th percentile SAT score on this list is 1250, so a bright kid could probably attend one of these universities easily, and even score some good scholarships. The catch is the ROI depends on paying in-state tuition. Or being LDS, in the case of BYU.