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Private colleges with the best return on investment

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November 13, 2023
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For high school graduates, choosing the right college can be one of the most important decisions in their lives. The college experience can be a key step to figuring out who they are as adults and what they will do with the rest of their lives. It can be a daunting decision.

On top of emotional investment, enrollment in a private college is a financial investment. American private colleges can be among the most expensive higher learning institutions in the world.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average total for tuition and fees at private universities exceeds $40,000. Many universities are much more expensive. Harvey Mudd College, for example, costs nearly $90,000, according to the college's own website. Making such a large investment in education and the future can be a reach for many students, so it's important to make sure they're getting their money's worth.

Stacker compiled a list of the private colleges with the best return on investment using a study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. Nonprofit private colleges that primarily issue bachelor's degrees were considered. Colleges are ranked by the highest 40-year ROI, as measured by the net present value of costs plus projected earnings 40 years after enrollment.

Considering a college's ROI factors in tuition and living expenses, student fees, food, and transportation, among others. These elements are matched up against prospective careers, salary expectations, and potential earnings.

Here's a breakdown of some of the key factors that went into the researchers' calculations.

- 40-year NPV: What the sum of all earnings 40 years after enrollment is worth today, adjusted for the cost of education at the school.
- Median earnings after 10 years: Typical annual salary 10 years after enrollment.
- Net price: The average price students pay per year after scholarships and financial aid, including books and living expenses.
- Graduation rate: Share of students who complete bachelor's degrees within six years.
- Median debt: The typical amount of student debt graduates from this school hold.

Whether you're considering any of the private colleges on this list or you graduated from college many decades ago, keep reading to discover the private colleges in America with the best return on investment.

#50. Illinois Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,654,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $77,682
- Net-price: $22,831
- Graduation rate: 71.0%
- Median debt: $19,428

#49. George Washington University

- 40-year NPV: $1,661,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $80,606
- Net-price: $33,719
- Graduation rate: 82.0%
- Median debt: $19,500

#48. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide

- 40-year NPV: $1,666,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $77,768
- Net-price: $20,333
- Graduation rate: 23.0%
- Median debt: $14,000

#47. Northeastern University

- 40-year NPV: $1,668,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $79,786
- Net-price: $31,093
- Graduation rate: 89.0%
- Median debt: $22,500

#46. Rice University

- 40-year NPV: $1,686,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $77,683
- Net-price: $16,999
- Graduation rate: 94.0%
- Median debt: $10,500

#45. Northwestern University

- 40-year NPV: $1,703,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $80,033
- Net-price: $24,664
- Graduation rate: 94.0%
- Median debt: $14,000

#44. Clarkson University

- 40-year NPV: $1,706,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $81,358
- Net-price: $29,015
- Graduation rate: 76.0%
- Median debt: $24,205

#43. Vanderbilt University

- 40-year NPV: $1,719,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $79,872
- Net-price: $19,432
- Graduation rate: 93.0%
- Median debt: $12,420

#42. College of the Holy Cross

- 40-year NPV: $1,732,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $84,653
- Net-price: $37,292
- Graduation rate: 91.0%
- Median debt: $26,000

#41. Milwaukee School of Engineering

- 40-year NPV: $1,735,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $81,328
- Net-price: $24,440
- Graduation rate: 69.0%
- Median debt: $23,500

#40. Washington University in St Louis

- 40-year NPV: $1,741,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $82,732
- Net-price: $26,869
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $15,046

#39. Manhattan College

- 40-year NPV: $1,747,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $83,117
- Net-price: $28,153
- Graduation rate: 72.0%
- Median debt: $22,000

#38. University of Southern California

- 40-year NPV: $1,748,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $83,426
- Net-price: $29,528
- Graduation rate: 92.0%
- Median debt: $17,250

#37. Fairfield University

- 40-year NPV: $1,754,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $86,060
- Net-price: $38,869
- Graduation rate: 82.0%
- Median debt: $24,450

#36. Johns Hopkins University

- 40-year NPV: $1,763,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $83,287
- Net-price: $29,342
- Graduation rate: 93.0%
- Median debt: $11,750

#35. Lafayette College

- 40-year NPV: $1,766,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $84,939
- Net-price: $32,551
- Graduation rate: 87.0%
- Median debt: $16,000

#34. Bucknell University

- 40-year NPV: $1,789,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $88,154
- Net-price: $42,502
- Graduation rate: 89.0%
- Median debt: $21,928

#33. Washington and Lee University

- 40-year NPV: $1,828,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $86,020
- Net-price: $22,615
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $18,750

#32. Worcester Polytechnic Institute

- 40-year NPV: $1,855,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $89,405
- Net-price: $39,756
- Graduation rate: 88.0%
- Median debt: $26,795

#31. Bryant University

- 40-year NPV: $1,857,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $91,105
- Net-price: $39,234
- Graduation rate: 81.0%
- Median debt: $23,250

#30. Harvard University

- 40-year NPV: $1,859,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $84,918
- Net-price: $15,386
- Graduation rate: 97.0%
- Median debt: $12,072

#29. Villanova University

- 40-year NPV: $1,860,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $90,613
- Net-price: $41,027
- Graduation rate: 90.0%
- Median debt: $24,988

#28. University of Notre Dame

- 40-year NPV: $1,863,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $88,962
- Net-price: $33,025
- Graduation rate: 96.0%
- Median debt: $19,000

#27. Cornell University

- 40-year NPV: $1,884,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $91,176
- Net-price: $40,126
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $13,108

#26. Claremont McKenna College

- 40-year NPV: $1,889,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $86,571
- Net-price: $22,161
- Graduation rate: 92.0%
- Median debt: $12,070

#25. Dartmouth College

- 40-year NPV: $1,895,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $91,627
- Net-price: $33,574
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $14,500

#24. Yale University

- 40-year NPV: $1,917,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $88,655
- Net-price: $17,549
- Graduation rate: 97.0%
- Median debt: $12,000

#23. Boston College

- 40-year NPV: $1,924,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $93,021
- Net-price: $35,899
- Graduation rate: 93.0%
- Median debt: $16,999

#22. Santa Clara University

- 40-year NPV: $1,940,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $93,291
- Net-price: $38,327
- Graduation rate: 91.0%
- Median debt: $16,999

#21. Kettering University

- 40-year NPV: $1,943,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $93,893
- Net-price: $37,518
- Graduation rate: 63.0%
- Median debt: $27,000

#20. Columbia University in the City of New York

- 40-year NPV: $1,946,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $89,871
- Net-price: $23,306
- Graduation rate: 96.0%
- Median debt: $19,250

#19. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,947,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $94,131
- Net-price: $39,076
- Graduation rate: 84.0%
- Median debt: $22,577

#18. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

- 40-year NPV: $1,949,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $93,416
- Net-price: $35,464
- Graduation rate: 85.0%
- Median debt: $21,000

#17. Duke University

- 40-year NPV: $1,976,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $93,115
- Net-price: $27,020
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $12,500

#16. Lehigh University

- 40-year NPV: $2,019,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $95,033
- Net-price: $29,301
- Graduation rate: 89.0%
- Median debt: $20,024

#15. Georgetown University

- 40-year NPV: $2,027,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $96,375
- Net-price: $28,909
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $14,493

#14. Stevens Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $2,047,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $98,159
- Net-price: $37,588
- Graduation rate: 86.0%
- Median debt: $25,000

#13. University of the Sciences

- 40-year NPV: $2,080,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $98,779
- Net-price: $33,637
- Graduation rate: 77.0%
- Median debt: $26,920

#12. Carnegie Mellon University

- 40-year NPV: $2,119,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $99,998
- Net-price: $34,508
- Graduation rate: 90.0%
- Median debt: $19,000

#11. Princeton University

- 40-year NPV: $2,126,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $95,689
- Net-price: $11,317
- Graduation rate: 97.0%
- Median debt: $10,355

#10. Stanford University

- 40-year NPV: $2,200,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $97,798
- Net-price: $11,496
- Graduation rate: 94.0%
- Median debt: $11,000

#9. University of Pennsylvania

- 40-year NPV: $2,211,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $103,246
- Net-price: $25,802
- Graduation rate: 96.0%
- Median debt: $14,000

#8. Babson College

- 40-year NPV: $2,242,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $106,595
- Net-price: $34,606
- Graduation rate: 92.0%
- Median debt: $20,500

#7. Bentley University

- 40-year NPV: $2,247,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $107,974
- Net-price: $38,986
- Graduation rate: 89.0%
- Median debt: $23,250

#6. Harvey Mudd College

- 40-year NPV: $2,370,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $108,988
- Net-price: $32,727
- Graduation rate: 92.0%
- Median debt: $19,500

#5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $2,490,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $111,222
- Net-price: $16,636
- Graduation rate: 95.0%
- Median debt: $12,000

#4. California Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $2,490,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $112,166
- Net-price: $24,274
- Graduation rate: 93.0%
- Median debt: $9,867

#3. MCPHS University

- 40-year NPV: $2,509,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $118,171
- Net-price: $37,712
- Graduation rate: 73.0%
- Median debt: $25,000

#2. Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

- 40-year NPV: $2,608,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $119,112
- Net-price: $29,116
- Graduation rate: 68.0%
- Median debt: $25,000

#1. University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis

- 40-year NPV: $2,680,000
- Median earnings after 10 years: $121,576
- Net-price: $27,282
- Graduation rate: 84.0%
- Median debt: $15,500

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.

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