Public colleges with the best return on investment

Written by:
August 13, 2020
Caroline Culler // Wikimedia Commons

Public colleges with the best return on investment

According to Investopedia, in 2019, the amount of student debt in the United States reached an all-time high of $1.41 trillion. Almost 15% of adults over the age of 18 currently have outstanding student loan debt, averaging $35,359 per person. As these numbers rise, more and more people begin to wonder if college is a sound investment. A recent study by Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf at Georgetown University says yes. According to the researchers, workers who hold a bachelor’s degree make 80% more than workers who only have a high school diploma. When you consider the long term this way, it becomes clear: pursuing some form of higher education is often worth the money, regardless of the debt.

That being said, not all colleges are created equal. The same Georgetown University study shows that you get a bigger return on investment attending certain schools than you do when you choose to attend others. In order to help future students make a more informed decision, the team behind the study ranked 4,500 public colleges, determining those that were good financial options, and those the average student should give a pass.

To do this, the team used data collected by College Scorecard in 2019. Considering only public schools that predominantly grant bachelor’s degrees, the study compared debt (using the median principal loan amount) to average earnings (taken every six, eight, and ten years) to come up with a net present value, which was used as a ranking device. The net present value measures the projected earnings of an investment against the anticipated costs, both in today’s dollars and taking into account discounting interest rates, to determine whether an investment is worth making or not. Colleges were then ranked by the highest 40-year ROI, with ties broken by 10-year ROI.

In the following slides, Stacker takes a closer look at the public colleges with the best return on investment, highlighting important information, like student-to-teacher ratios, degree offerings, and average tuition costs, as well as individual things that make these particular colleges well worth the investment. From Cal State Sacramento to the Maine Maritime Academy, read on to see which colleges the money-conscious student should be considering.

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Ronbo76 // Wikimedia Commons

#100. California State University-Sacramento

- 40-year NPV: $1,061,000
- 10-year NPV: $144,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $12,500

Located just a few miles outside California’s capital city, Sacramento State offers 64 bachelor’s degree programs, including popular majors like nursing, computer science, business administration, and communications. The four-year university recently launched two new initiatives, “Finish in Four” and “Through in Two,” which aim to improve on-time graduation rates, thereby decreasing students’ overall debt. In 2019, the campaigns increased four-year graduation rates to 20.4% and two-year graduation rates to 42%, outpacing similar initiatives on all California State University campuses.

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#99. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State New Kensington

- 40-year NPV: $1,064,000
- 10-year NPV: $125,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $19,500

Pennsylvania State University’s New Kensington campus is a small branch of the state-wide public university, with approximately 700 students. Located just outside of Pittsburgh, its main draw is the “2+2” program, which allows students to complete the first two years of their bachelor’s degree at the lower-cost campus before transferring to a larger, more-expensive campus for their last two years. Savings vary depending on the program and campuses chosen by the student, but are proven to be significant.

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Shuvaev // Wikimedia Commons

#98. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Abington

- 40-year NPV: $1,064,000
- 10-year NPV: $125,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $19,500

A suburban campus just north of Philadelphia, Penn State Abington offers 20 bachelor’s degrees and the ability to complete the first two years of any of the university’s 275 courses of study through the “2+2” program. The college’s Career and Professional Development department also goes to great lengths to help soon-to-be graduates and alumni begin high-paying career paths, ensuring that they’ll be able to pay off all debt in a timely manner.

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#97. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Scranton

- 40-year NPV: $1,065,000
- 10-year NPV: $126,000
- Graduation rate: 38%
- Median debt: $19,500

Along with the 11 complete baccalaureate degrees Penn State Scranton offers, students at the university also have access to a host of professional education programs, like Spanish in the Workplace and Fundamentals in Cybersecurity. In a competitive job market, these additional skills set applicants apart and lead to an increased chance of gainful employment. The more gainful the employment, the easier it is to pay off any acquired debt.

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#96. University of Massachusetts-Amherst

- 40-year NPV: $1,066,000
- 10-year NPV: $102,000
- Graduation rate: 77%
- Median debt: $20,600

With over 250,000 living alumni holding degrees in 109 programs, the networking opportunities for University of Massachusetts-Amherst students are invaluable. One 2016 study completed by LinkedIn found that nearly 85% of people found their job through networking, meaning having a field of potential connections of this size could go a long way in helping a graduate land a career-level job.

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Creative Commons // Wikipedia

#95. Towson University

- 40-year NPV: $1,066,000
- 10-year NPV: $114,000
- Graduation rate: 71%
- Median debt: $14,759

One of the top 100 public universities in the United States, and the largest university in the Baltimore area, Towson University has an undergraduate student body of just under 20,000. Popular majors include nursing, information technology, computer science, and business administration—all stable fields that offer comparatively high salaries.

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Stilfehler // Wikimedia Commons

#94. Pennsylvania State University- Penn State Fayette-Eberly

- 40-year NPV: $1,066,000
- 10-year NPV: $127,000
- Graduation rate: 47%
- Median debt: $19,500

Penn State Fayette-Eberly has a unique program, called LaunchBox, which makes the cost of tuition well worth it for entrepreneurs. LaunchBox is a no-cost business accelerator that connects startups with the resources and mentorship they need to grow. Available to students and alumni, the program adds infinite value to the school’s $13,000-$15,000 annual tuition.

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Michael Barera // Wikimedia Commons

#93. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,068,000
- 10-year NPV: $110,000
- Graduation rate: 67%
- Median debt: $15,000

The University of Oklahoma offers more than 170 academic programs, including petroleum engineering and dance, which are both nationally-ranked. With just over 20,000 students, the public college offers a private school experience, in terms of class size and interaction with professors, for a public school cost.

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MrEdir // Wikimedia Commons

#92. Pennsylvania State University- Penn State Lehigh Valley

- 40-year NPV: $1,068,000
- 10-year NPV: $129,000
- Graduation rate: 56%
- Median debt: $19,500

While Penn State Lehigh Valley only offers nine complete majors, students can finish the first two years of any of the university’s 250 offerings at the smaller campus. This allows students to pay community college level tuition for the first two years of a baccalaureate program without the hassle and added costs of a full-blown transfer. That's an attractive option for those looking to earn a degree without being saddled with debt.

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#91. CUNY Queens College

- 40-year NPV: $1,068,000
- 10-year NPV: $165,000
- Graduation rate: 57%
- Median debt: $7,750

For the past 28 years, U.S. News & World Report has ranked CUNY Queens College as a “best value college” thanks to its academic programs, generous financial aid, and overall affordability. Additionally, it has been ranked in the top 1% of schools that move students from poverty to prosperity, thanks, in large part, to its pre-professional programs, as well as its education and technology courses of study.

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Steve Pribut // Wikimedia Commons

#90. St. Mary’s College of Maryland

- 40-year NPV: $1,069,000
- 10-year NPV: $91,000
- Graduation rate: 76%
- Median debt: $16,750

Students at St. Mary’s College of Maryland have two incredible advantages that make the money they spend on their education well worth it. First, they’ll benefit from one of the smallest student-to-teacher ratios in the country (9:1), which ensures that the students get the attention and help they need to succeed. Second, they’ll receive an incredibly high-quality education, as 98% of the professors on staff have the highest degree available in their respective disciplines.

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#89. Washington State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,069,000
- 10-year NPV: $121,000
- Graduation rate: 64%
- Median debt: $14,772

Students at Washington State University are able to build career-accelerating connections in two major ways. First, the public school has an alumni network of some 200,000 people in 146 countries around the world. Second, the college offers study abroad programs on all seven continents, allowing students to make international connections with peers, professors, and mentors, all of whom can help them locate and secure better job offers post-graduation.

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Bing722 // Wikimedia Commons

#88. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Schuylkill

- 40-year NPV: $1,069,000
- 10-year NPV: $130,000
- Graduation rate: 39%
- Median debt: $19,500

At Penn State’s Schuylkill campus, students have an above-average chance of landing some type of financial assistance. With over $1 million available in campus-specific aid, some 92% of students receive a scholarship or grant. This financial assistance, combined with the low cost of tuition, means this school is incredibly wallet-friendly, and a great option for those looking for a quick return on their investment.

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Joe Orbin // Wikimedia Commons

#87. Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Wilkes-Barre

- 40-year NPV: $1,072,000
- 10-year NPV: $133,000
- Graduation rate: 53%
- Median debt: $19,500

With only 460 students currently enrolled, Penn State Wilkes-Barre offers a private school experience at a public school cost. In small class groups (the average ratio is 18 students per professor), attendees can earn two- or four-year degrees in high-return fields like accounting, electrical engineering technology, and surveying engineering.

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RealNordyNed // Wikimedia Commons

#86. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,073,000
- 10-year NPV: $63,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $21,500

In 2019, the University of Pittsburgh reported that 15,000 individual employers had recruited their students, an impressive number considering there were a grand total of 23,466 full-time undergraduate students. This should be an incredibly encouraging statistic for those who are concerned with finding gainful employment after graduating. Combine these numbers with the fact that approximately 70% of students who apply for financial aid receive it, and it seems almost certain that UP graduates will be able to pay off their debt in a timely manner.

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Beyond My Ken // Wikimedia Commons

#85. SUNY at Albany

- 40-year NPV: $1,074,000
- 10-year NPV: $109,000
- Graduation rate: 65%
- Median debt: $15,750

In the past several years, SUNY at Albany has added a host of in-demand programs to their already-extensive list of available majors, including computer engineering, homeland security, digital forensics, and public health. All growing industries, these fields offer a certain sense of job security, and graduates are unlikely to complete school only to find there is no work available for them in their chosen career path.

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#84. University of Georgia

- 40-year NPV: $1,074,000
- 10-year NPV: $127,000
- Graduation rate: 85%
- Median debt: $17,108

The University of Georgia has an incredibly high success rate: 95% of the school’s graduates are employed or enrolled in grad school just six months after finishing their bachelor’s degree. One practice that may play a major role in this rate is the fact that the university is one of the largest public schools in the country to require all students to participate in hands-on learning, something that certainly gives them an edge over their peers who may not have had the same practical experience pre-graduation.

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#83. SUNY Polytechnic Institute

- 40-year NPV: $1,080,000
- 10-year NPV: $124,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $12,500

Almost every single one of SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s available majors is in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has called STEM “the future of the economy,” predicting that some 9 million jobs will be added in related industries between 2012 and 2022. These numbers all but guarantee that SUNY Poly Tech students will be able to secure stable, high-paying jobs after graduation, which will allow them to pay off the $15,000 per year cost of attendance.

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#82. Iowa State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,080,000
- 10-year NPV: $130,000
- Graduation rate: 74%
- Median debt: $18,749

Students looking to study agriculture or business would do well to consider Iowa State University. Both colleges have job placement rates for recent graduates in the 95-98% range, offer substantial financial aid, and provide networking opportunities (through alumni connections or large career fairs) that have been demonstrated to increase students' employment chances.

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#81. San Diego State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,081,000
- 10-year NPV: $125,000
- Graduation rate: 74%
- Median debt: $13,277

An up-and-coming player in higher education, San Diego State University is home to several top-rated programs, including its international business program, which is 12th in the nation, and its College of Education, which is ranked seventh in the state. On average, 88% of first-time students return after their first year, and 73% graduate after six years. Additionally, 7,400 students have been paired with alumni mentors who share professional advice and expertise, helping the new generation of Aztec graduates to land career-level jobs after finishing their course of study.

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Millyard800 // Wikimedia Commons

#80. University of New Hampshire at Manchester

- 40-year NPV: $1,084,000
- 10-year NPV: $121,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $23,000

A small public university located in a small New England town, the University of New Hampshire at Manchester offers 33 undergraduate and graduate programs. For students receiving in-state tuition, direct costs are capped at just under $16,000 a year, and 90% of all students (in-state and out-of-state) receive some form of financial aid. To cap it off, 96% of UNHM graduates find gainful employment after completing their program.

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Atomic Energy505 // Wikimedia Commons

#79. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,084,000
- 10-year NPV: $147,000
- Graduation rate: 48%
- Median debt: $11,710

Another of the country’s leading STEM schools, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is ranked 19th in the country (among all public schools) for graduates’ earning potential. In large part, this is due to the fact that science and engineering fields tend to command higher salaries than liberal arts fields. However, it certainly helps that the students have plenty of opportunities to complete hands-on and research work in their respective fields before they even graduate, giving them a leg up on the competition when it comes to applying for jobs.

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Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture // Wikimedia Commons

#78. Texas Tech University

- 40-year NPV: $1,086,000
- 10-year NPV: $123,000
- Graduation rate: 60%
- Median debt: $15,500

Of the 32,158 undergraduate students enrolled at Texas Tech University in 2019, 71% of them received some type of financial aid, averaging just over $9,000 a year, to put toward tuition, which cost $10,835 for in-state students. The university’s commitment to making attendance affordable for all, as well as its plethora of four-year degrees (150 in total), make this public school an excellent investment for those looking to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

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Carmichaellibrary // Wikimedia Commons

#77. University of Maryland-University College

- 40-year NPV: $1,091,000
- 10-year NPV: $132,000
- Graduation rate: 10%
- Median debt: $9,500

In July 2019, the University of Maryland University College changed its name to University of Maryland Global Campus in a move that was intended to reflect the school’s commitment to providing students around the world with a flexible education backed by one of the country’s leading public universities. An entirely online program, the school offers bachelor’s degrees in fields like cybersecurity, computer science, and business management. UMGC holds the distinction of being one of the largest educators of active-duty servicemen, with over 50,000 members of the Armed Forces currently enrolled.

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Ben Franske // Wikimedia Commons

#76. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

- 40-year NPV: $1,094,000
- 10-year NPV: $121,000
- Graduation rate: 79%
- Median debt: $17,000

Forty-three percent of graduates from the University of Minnesota obtain their bachelor’s degrees with no government-backed debt. 71.1% of the first-time freshmen enrolled in the college do this within four years. These students aren’t graduating into low-paying careers either—U of M has several high-earning degree options available, including pharmacy, public health, and dental, and manages to produce over 70% of the state’s newest physicians.

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Another Believer // Wikimedia Commons

#75. University of Houston

- 40-year NPV: $1,096,000
- 10-year NPV: $129,000
- Graduation rate: 52%
- Median debt: $13,250

Located in Houston’s third ward, the University of Houston is home to 46,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The most popular bachelor’s degree programs include entrepreneurship, pre-law, and engineering. Obtaining a degree in these fields or any other tends to pay off quickly, as the average first-year earnings for a University of Houston graduate with a four-year degree is $53,797.

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Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

#74. University of Rhode Island

- 40-year NPV: $1,098,000
- 10-year NPV: $107,000
- Graduation rate: 64%
- Median debt: $18,500

Just over half of the 14,687 undergraduate students at the University of Rhode Island are residents of the state, allowing them to pay the deeply-discounted tuition rate of $14,500 per year. The cost for their higher education is brought down even more when you consider that the school awards 86% of students some form of financial aid. Combine this with the fact that 90% of U of RI graduates are employed shortly after completing their degree, and it’s easy to see why this public university is a great investment for local New Englanders.

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#73. Ramapo College of New Jersey

- 40-year NPV: $1,101,000
- 10-year NPV: $104,000
- Graduation rate: 74%
- Median debt: $18,750

Founded in 1969, Ramapo College is a public liberal arts college that is often named in the top three schools in the state. Also the smallest public college in New Jersey, Ramapo has an average class size of 21 students, which allows it to offer high-quality education even in its most-popular programs like nursing, teacher education, and business. Its proximity to New York City (a 35-mile drive) means that many students, 1,000 to date, are able to land internships in the metropolitan hub, without having to pay NYC living or education prices.

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#72. University of Minnesota-Rochester

- 40-year NPV: $1,104,000
- 10-year NPV: $131,000
- Graduation rate: 59%
- Median debt: $17,000

The Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota is known for its health science and biosciences programs, which lead to lucrative careers in everything from patient care to applied research. Founded in 2006, the university works hard to ensure that it sets its students up for success: 92% of incoming students receive financial aid, 91% of students complete their degrees in four years, and 100% of graduates have entered the workforce in their chosen field.

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#71. University of Iowa

- 40-year NPV: $1,104,000
- 10-year NPV: $132,000
- Graduation rate: 73%
- Median debt: $16,000

The oldest higher education institution in the state, the University of Iowa was founded in 1847. Today, the school is renowned for its medical and writing programs, which help to attract 23,000 undergraduate students each year. Employment prospects for Hawkeyes are lucrative, with over 100 Fortune 500 companies recruiting and hiring graduates each year.

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Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

#70. University at Buffalo

- 40-year NPV: $1,106,000
- 10-year NPV: $120,000
- Graduation rate: 75%
- Median debt: $14,999

The University at Buffalo is the top public school in all of New York State, offering 125 undergraduate programs. The SUNY school is committed to helping its graduates finish on time with their “Finish in 4” program, which provides students with all the resources they need to stay on track. Students enrolled in the program who meet all qualifications but still fail to graduate on time can rest easy, as UB has pledged to cover all remaining costs.

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#69. Clemson University

- 40-year NPV: $1,106,000
- 10-year NPV: $124,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $19,000

According to the 2020 Princeton Review, Clemson University, located in South Carolina, has the top career services program of any school in the nation and is the ninth-best school for internships. With 80 majors to choose from and the 11th-best alumni network in the country, former Clemson Tigers, half of whom come from the top 10% of their high school classes, are well-equipped to face the real world.

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Alyssa Gormish, UPJ student // Wikimedia Commons

#68. University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

- 40-year NPV: $1,110,000
- 10-year NPV: $100,000
- Graduation rate: 50%
- Median debt: $21,500

The University of Pittsburgh’s largest regional campus, Johnstown offers more than 50 undergraduate majors in seven fields, including business & enterprise, education, engineering & computer science, humanities, natural science, nursing & health sciences, and social sciences. About 96% of graduates find success in full-time employment, graduate school acceptance, or military service. Additionally, almost 89% of Pitt-Johnstown students receive some type of financial assistance.

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#67. University of Massachusetts-Lowell

- 40-year NPV: $1,112,000
- 10-year NPV: $113,000
- Graduation rate: 58%
- Median debt: $17,928

Founded in 1894, UMass Lowell, a public research university, began as a teaching college but now offers more than 100 undergraduate majors. In 2019, the school granted 2,800 bachelors degrees to students who, on average, will go on to earn $109,300 a year by the mid-point of their careers. Very few of those graduates paid full price for their degrees, as UMass Lowell usually meets 90% of a student’s demonstrated need (an average award package is about $15,400 per student).

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Cgb628 // Wikimedia Commons

#66. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

- 40-year NPV: $1,113,000
- 10-year NPV: $129,000
- Graduation rate: 78%
- Median debt: $18,192

Forbes crowned Raleigh, North Carolina, as both the second-easiest city for finding a job and the second-hottest city for tech jobs. This is all good news for North Carolina State University graduates, especially those enrolled in the college’s powerhouse technology and engineering majors. The proof is in the pudding: In 2014, more than three-quarters of recent NC State grads went straight into full-time positions or were accepted to grad school.

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Jennifer Williams // Wikimedia Commons

#65. California State University-East Bay

- 40-year NPV: $1,116,000
- 10-year NPV: $148,000
- Graduation rate: 45%
- Median debt: $12,372

While bachelor’s degrees are the most popularly-awarded degrees at California State University-East Bay, the school notably offers more than 40 continuing education and certificate programs as well. These programs, which range in industry from medicine and health care to law to business administration, are high-quality and yield excellent results for students after completion. Eighty-three percent of continuing education graduates report receiving a promotion, salary increase, or additional job responsibilities, and 96% report obtaining full-time employment or acceptance into another program.

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#64. University of Pittsburgh-Bradford

- 40-year NPV: $1,121,000
- 10-year NPV: $110,000
- Graduation rate: 47%
- Median debt: $21,500

The University of Pittsburgh-Bradford is an excellent choice for budget-conscious students, as enrollment will earn them a respected University of Pittsburgh degree at a fraction of the cost. The campus’ financial aid program is also more generous, with 94% of all students receiving help, an average of $19,171 for in-state students and $24,102 for out-of-state students. After graduation, 94% of Bradford attendees find themselves stepping into a full-time job or a graduate program.

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#63. Michigan State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,122,000
- 10-year NPV: $117,000
- Graduation rate: 79%
- Median debt: $21,829

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University has almost 500,000 living alumni who have completed one of the school’s 200 undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies programs. These former Spartans have helped 93% of today’s graduates land full-time roles at companies like Amazon and Ford Motor Company, as well as places in prestigious grad schools like those at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University. MSU graduates are high earners from the beginning, with 37% reporting annual earnings of $40,000-60,000 and 31% reporting annual earnings of more than $60,000, all within six months of graduation.

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#62. Farmingdale State College

- 40-year NPV: $1,122,000
- 10-year NPV: $153,000
- Graduation rate: 51%
- Median debt: $11,250

The largest college of applied science and technology in the State University of New York system, Farmingdale State College offers 43 programs ranging from applied psychology to civil engineering technology. Costing just over $7,000 a year for New York state residents, the school has a high retention rate of 84% and a six-year graduation rate of 55%. All in all, Farmingdale alumni graduate with the lowest amount of debt of all SUNY graduates, and 88% of them are employed full-time within six months of graduation.

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#61. University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg

- 40-year NPV: $1,123,000
- 10-year NPV: $113,000
- Graduation rate: 44%
- Median debt: $21,500

A tiny campus, the University of Pittsburgh-Greenburg only has 1,500 full-time, undergraduate students and 10,000 alumni, giving it the same type of feel as a small, private, liberal arts school. That being said, its connection to the massive University of Pittsburgh, and all of its resources and funding, means that students really do end up with the best of both worlds. Finally, the regional campus is ranked the best school in Pennsylvania for student debt, as the average graduate carries only $26,390 in student loans.

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Ricardo630 // Wikimedia Commons

#60. University of Utah

- 40-year NPV: $1,131,000
- 10-year NPV: $138,000
- Graduation rate: 66%
- Median debt: $11,500

The University of Utah, one of the top research universities in the country, can claim the lowest tuition, for both in-state and out-of-state students, out of any Big Ten or Pac12 university. The college also has one of the best graduation rates in the state—70% of students finish within six years—and one of the best retention rates in the state—89% between the first and second years. Several of the university’s programs, including computer science, IT, and nursing, also rank among the top in all of Utah.

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Stan9999 // Wikimedia Commons

#59. University of Texas at Dallas

- 40-year NPV: $1,134,000
- 10-year NPV: $139,000
- Graduation rate: 68%
- Median debt: $13,000

A whopping 64% of seniors at the University of Texas-Dallas graduate with no student debt, thanks to the college’s generous financial aid policies, which award 70% of the student body with some type of assistance. Many of these students finish their time in Dallas with diplomas in high-ranked programs like technology engineering, management, and arts, and 71% finish within six years.

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Baltimore Heritage // Wikimedia Commons

#58. University of Maryland-Baltimore County

- 40-year NPV: $1,140,000
- 10-year NPV: $110,000
- Graduation rate: 64%
- Median debt: $16,000

The U.S. News & World Report ranked the teaching in undergraduate courses at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the top 20 in the nation. The public college employs over 800 professors who teach nearly 50 majors and push students toward applied learning opportunities (internships, research projects, etc.). This emphasis on hands-on education goes a long way, as 87% of new grads leave UMBC with a full-time job offer or graduate school acceptance.

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Victorrocha // Wikimedia Commons

#57. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

- 40-year NPV: $1,151,000
- 10-year NPV: $139,000
- Graduation rate: 67%
- Median debt: $15,275

One of only seven polytechnic universities nationwide, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona undertakes a unique approach to education, mixing hands-on learning, technology, and classic textbook lecturing. This prepares its students to be more-skilled workers, adept at critical thinking. The unique take on education certainly pays off, as the average mid-career salary of CalPoly Pomona graduates is $89,200, which is within the top seventh percentile in the country.

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Uicbmarketing // Wikimedia Commons

#56. University of Illinois at Chicago

- 40-year NPV: $1,156,000
- 10-year NPV: $139,000
- Graduation rate: 57%
- Median debt: $14,000

The largest university in the Chicago area, the University of Illinois at Chicago has 33,000 students enrolled in its 16 colleges. There are two factors that make this public research university a great value for money: its low student-to-teacher ratio of 19-to-1, and its generous financial aid program, which helps 84% of all students in bachelor’s and master’s programs obtain federal, state, institutional, and private funding.

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UCSB Library // Wikimedia Commons

#55. University of California-Santa Barbara

- 40-year NPV: $1,165,000
- 10-year NPV: $128,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $15,000

A global leader in the sciences and an elite research university, the University of California-Santa Barbara offers over 90 undergraduate majors. The most popular four-year programs include social sciences, biological and life sciences, and psychology. The school’s academic strength and high six-year graduation rate of 81% make it an excellent choice for students looking to invest in a program that will yield positive results.

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#54. University of Wisconsin-Madison

- 40-year NPV: $1,178,000
- 10-year NPV: $125,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $19,639

Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a top research school that spends $1.2 billion annually on new projects. An enormous number, the research expenditure is a small portion of the university’s overall budget, a significant chunk of which is sunk into funding the school’s 9,000 individual courses, 232 undergraduate majors, and both need- and merit-based financial aid, which 59% of students receive.

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Alma Mater // Wikimedia Commons

#53. James Madison University

- 40-year NPV: $1,181,000
- 10-year NPV: $120,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $17,591

Located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, James Madison University has been acknowledged as the #1 college in the state for employment after graduation. Ninety-six percent of its students, who pursue more than 130 degrees, find full-time employment or earn grad school admission within six months of completing their degree. Eighty-eight percent of students reach graduation within six years and a whopping 96% of former students report being satisfied with their education and the choice they made to attend JMU.

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#52. Purdue University-Main Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,184,000
- 10-year NPV: $152,000
- Graduation rate: 77%
- Median debt: $17,250

Purdue University’s main campus has earned several distinctions that set it apart from other schools in Indiana and make it a clearly excellent choice. To begin with, an impressive 59% of students graduate from the school debt-free. One of the top five schools in the nation in terms of student use of the career services office, 70.1% graduate with a job offer in hand (another 20.95% graduate with grad school acceptance). Finally, the school is ranked #1 among public schools in the state for the highest starting salaries, post-graduation.

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Ildar Sagdejev // Wikimedia Commons

#51. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

- 40-year NPV: $1,185,000
- 10-year NPV: $143,000
- Graduation rate: 91%
- Median debt: $15,000

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill opened its doors to students in 1795, making it the oldest public university in the country. Known for its high-quality academics and small class sizes (88% of classrooms have fewer than 50 students), the school currently offers 74 bachelor’s degrees, 104 master’s degrees, and 65 doctoral degrees, ensuring that no matter what level of higher education you’re pursuing, you’re sure to find a program that suits your interests. In addition, the innovative university meets 100% of the demonstrated financial needs of students who apply for aid on time, making higher education truly available to all.

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#50. San José State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,195,000
- 10-year NPV: $144,000
- Graduation rate: 59%
- Median debt: $12,866

San José State University began as a teacher’s college in 1857, but is now known as the largest provider of business graduates and entry-level engineers to Silicon Valley in Southern California. For in-state students, tuition is capped at $5,742 a year, making this school a much more affordable option than the neighboring private universities.

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James Willamor // Flickr

#49. Citadel Military College of South Carolina

- 40-year NPV: $1,197,000
- 10-year NPV: $133,000
- Graduation rate: 71%
- Median debt: $17,959

Each of Citadel Military College of South Carolina’s undergraduate students, who hail from 45 states and 12 countries, is required to complete an ROTC course each semester, though they are not required to accept or apply for a formal commission. Twenty-eight majors, ranging from nursing to computer engineering to political science, are available at the military school, whose student body is primarily composed of bachelor’s degree students (2,300 strong). The college has been acknowledged as one of the best schools in the South, offering incredibly high-quality education

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Nove1986 // Wikimedia Commons

#48. University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical

- 40-year NPV: $1,197,000
- 10-year NPV: $140,000
- Graduation rate: 47%
- Median debt: $13,076

The largest academic health center in the Rocky Mountain region, the University of Colorado Denver-Anschutz Medical includes two nationally-ranked hospitals that treat a combined 2 million patients each year. With more than 40 highly-rated degree programs in medicine, nursing, dentistry, and pharmacology, the campus serves approximately 4,500 students. Some of the most highly-rated doctors and nurse practitioners lead the Anschutz Medical faculty, ensuring that students in all specialties are receiving a top-notch education and mentorship.

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Tomwsulcer // Wikimedia Commons

#47. College of New Jersey

- 40-year NPV: $1,202,000
- 10-year NPV: $106,000
- Graduation rate: 87%
- Median debt: $21,195

With the seventh-highest four-year graduation rate in the country out of all public universities, the College of New Jersey is committed to ensuring students earn a degree without getting buried under years of student loan debt. Over 400 employers actively recruit on campus each year, looking for top performers in all of the school’s 50 majors, from art history to biomedical engineering to early childhood education. The highly-selective school has been ranked as one of the best values for student's money in the northeastern state, implying that a good amount of graduates find gainful employment upon graduation.

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Spohpatuf // Wikimedia Commons

#46. University of Florida

- 40-year NPV: $1,202,000
- 10-year NPV: $153,000
- Graduation rate: 88%
- Median debt: $15,000

Located in Gainesville, the University of Florida is deeply connected to the surrounding community, in fact, 70% of graduates obtain employment or have plans to obtain employment in the state. Many of these students begin their adult lives in the Sunshine State without the added weight of student debt, as 56% of graduates carry no student loans. Another thing that makes the University of Florida stand out is its combined degrees, which allow students to finish with both a bachelor’s and master’s, while saving almost $9,000 in tuition.

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Daniel Lobo // Flickr

#45. University of Baltimore

- 40-year NPV: $1,209,000
- 10-year NPV: $122,000
- Graduation rate: 35%
- Median debt: $15,750

The University of Baltimore caters to non-traditional students who require more flexibility to complete their degrees. Over 70 programs are available through the college, from pre-law to cybersecurity, offered in all types of formats, from online to night classes, for a surprisingly low cost ($3,500 a semester for in-state students), considering the expertise of the faculty.

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#44. Rutgers University-New Brunswick

- 40-year NPV: $1,210,000
- 10-year NPV: $125,000
- Graduation rate: 80%
- Median debt: $19,500

If the goal of college is to land a high-paying career, then Rutgers University-New Brunswick has it all figured out. The school’s career services department does an outstanding job, connecting with 72% of students, assisting some 3,500 of these students in securing a job interview, and helping 83% of them land their first-choice career. Students who choose to study any one of the school’s hundreds of majors stand a good chance of earning a return on their investment fairly quickly after graduation.

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#43. University of Florida-Online

- 40-year NPV: $1,211,000
- 10-year NPV: $161,000
- Graduation rate: NA
- Median debt: $15,000

While many online programs are regarded as less rigorous or reputable than in-person programs, the University of Florida-Online is not one of them. Saving students nearly 40% of total tuition costs, the classes are taught by the same renowned professors that lead the programs at various University of Florida campuses. The public university option is adding more and more courses each year, meaning that soon enough, students will have upward of 30 different degree programs to choose from.

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Sadads // Wikimedia Commons

#42. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,212,000
- 10-year NPV: $153,000
- Graduation rate: 49%
- Median debt: $18,251

The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is best known for its science and engineering programs, as well as the overall high-quality STEM education it offers. Graduates of the small school fare well in the real world: 97% of graduates in 2018 went on to land a job in their chosen field or earned a place at a leading graduate school. A degree from the university has a national appeal—over 235 employers in 38 states hired Mines grads, offering an average starting salary of $63,354.

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Cargoudel // Wikimedia Commons

#41. University of Delaware

- 40-year NPV: $1,214,000
- 10-year NPV: $146,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $21,250

Another one of the oldest public universities in the nation, the University of Delaware can trace its history back to 1743, when it opened its doors in Newark, Delaware, with a mission to educate the local clergy. Today, the public research university has expanded well beyond religious education, boasting nine colleges that offer 150 fields of study. The school focuses on producing well-rounded, worldly students, and an estimated 30% study abroad while at UD, trusting the country’s oldest study abroad program to give them a global perspective on their chosen course of study.

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OregonTech // Wikimedia Commons

#40. Oregon Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,221,000
- 10-year NPV: $160,000
- Graduation rate: 46%
- Median debt: $15,500

The only polytechnic university in Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology is focused on giving students the type of hands-on STEM education they need to thrive in the growing fields of technology, engineering, health sciences, and natural sciences. Rather than filling its 5,400 students’ heads with useless trivia, Oregon Tech places a huge emphasis on real-world skills. This approach to education pays off, as 96% of graduates find employment or grad school acceptance in six months, with an average starting salary of $60,000 per year.

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#39. Texas A & M University-College Station

- 40-year NPV: $1,222,000
- 10-year NPV: $135,000
- Graduation rate: 81%
- Median debt: $15,500

Texas A & M University-College Station is located in the dead center of the Houston-Dallas-Austin triangle, the most heavily-populated area of the state. Its proximity to these major cities gives its students unique internship and career opportunities, and close to many of its 500,000 alumni who provide invaluable mentorship and connections. Offering 133 undergraduate programs and over 250 graduate programs, the school produces more Fortune 500 CEOs than any other school in the country.

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#38. University of Connecticut

- 40-year NPV: $1,223,000
- 10-year NPV: $129,000
- Graduation rate: 83%
- Median debt: $18,750

Founded in 1881, the University of Connecticut is a land, sea, and space-grant public research university with over 32,000 students enrolled. While it’s far from one of the cheapest schools on our list, costing out-of-state students over $50,000 a year, UConn doles out $509 million in financial aid each year, $213 million in scholarships alone. After graduation, 81.9% of Huskies find themselves in a full-time position, with a median salary of $58,000 per year, or pursuing an advanced degree.

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Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

#37. Stony Brook University

- 40-year NPV: $1,224,000
- 10-year NPV: $145,000
- Graduation rate: 72%
- Median debt: $15,646

Sitting 60 miles east of New York City, Stony Brook University is located on the North Shore of Long Island, where 25,500 students head to class each day just three miles from the beach. The SUNY school offers more than 60 majors, including popular options like health science, computer science, and political science. These in-demand fields help 94% of graduates find relevant work or grad school placement.

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#36. College of William and Mary

- 40-year NPV: $1,227,000
- 10-year NPV: $131,000
- Graduation rate: 92%
- Median debt: $17,248

Classified as one of eight “Public Ivy” universities, the College of William and Mary offers a world-class education at a price that’s supremely affordable ($17,000 for in-state students and $40,000 for out-of-state students) when compared to private Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard. Chartered in 1693, William and Mary is the second-oldest higher learning institution in the country, and can boast three presidents among its 100,000 alumni. 83.4% of graduates reported full-time work or graduate school acceptance upon leaving William and Mary, indicating that the school’s name alone has a significant pull.

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#35. University of California-Davis

- 40-year NPV: $1,229,000
- 10-year NPV: $138,000
- Graduation rate: 85%
- Median debt: $12,334

The University of California-Davis has 39,000 students enrolled in its 203 undergraduate and graduate programs. Of these students, 52% of bachelor’s degree holders finished with no student debt and 58% of California residents had all of their tuition covered by gift aid. Those who do graduate with debt have no need to worry, though, as the average starting salary of UC Davis alumni is reported to be $56,300, with the average mid-career salary reaching $94,600.

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Daderot // Wikimedia Commons

#34. University of Texas at Austin

- 40-year NPV: $1,233,000
- 10-year NPV: $142,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $20,366

The leading research university in the great state of Texas, the University of Texas at Austin attracts $650 million each year to its research programs, many of which are available to undergraduate students. Founded in 1883, UT Austin currently has over 51,000 students from all 50 states enrolled in its 18 colleges and schools. In its long history, the school has educated some of the nation’s brightest minds, including 112 Fulbright scholars, 31 Rhodes scholars, and 23 Marshall scholars, demonstrating the strength of its various programs.

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GoToVan // Wikimedia Commons

#33. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,243,000
- 10-year NPV: $162,000
- Graduation rate: 84%
- Median debt: $13,000

In 2018, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Center for World-Class Universities ranked the University of Washington 14th in the world for academic strength. With more than 54,000 students enrolled in hundreds of majors each year, the university is certainly a large one. However, just because the school is big, that doesn’t mean individual students get lost in the shuffle—in fact, the average time to graduate for Huskies is four years, and 81% of freshmen graduate within six years, the best rate in the state.

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Allyunion // Wikimedia Commons

#32. University of California-Irvine

- 40-year NPV: $1,244,000
- 10-year NPV: $150,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $15,000

The New York Times called the University of California-Irvine “the number one school in the country doing the most for the American dream,” meaning it ensures its students aren’t just coming from the 1%, but from all economic levels and backgrounds. If that doesn’t speak highly enough about the 37,000 student-strong school, maybe this will: UC Irvine has a 93% one-year retention rate and an 83% graduation rate over six years. Graduates will join the nearly 200,000 former alumni who work in medicine, education, law, and biomedical engineering, among other fields.

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Mx. Granger // Wikimedia Commons

#31. Rutgers University-Newark

- 40-year NPV: $1,244,000
- 10-year NPV: $159,000
- Graduation rate: 67%
- Median debt: $19,500

One of Rutgers University’s three campuses, the Newark campus joined New Jersey’s public research institution in 1946. Since then, the school has offered more than 40 majors to its 13,600 students. For the past 23 years, the school has been recognized as having the most diverse student body in the nation, indicating their commitment to ensuring students of all backgrounds have access, both financially and physically, to life-changing higher education.

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Mrtoren // Wikimedia Commons

#30. Rutgers University-Camden

- 40-year NPV: $1,244,000
- 10-year NPV: $159,000
- Graduation rate: 59%
- Median debt: $19,500

The final Rutgers University campus, Camden was the last campus to join the public research institution, in 1950, as well as the smallest campus with only 7,100 students. However, that doesn’t mean the quality of education is lesser than any of its sister schools—in fact, 99% of the faculty, who teach all 38 undergraduate majors, have earned the highest degree available in their field. The excellent education doesn’t come at a bank-breaking cost, either: The average student is awarded $15,853 in financial aid.

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#29. George Mason University

- 40-year NPV: $1,255,000
- 10-year NPV: $133,000
- Graduation rate: 70%
- Median debt: $15,994

Located in Fairfax, Virginia, George Mason University has a total enrollment of 37,000 students in 211 degree programs. Sixty percent of those students receive financial aid to help with costs, and 80% find employment within six months of graduation, which allows them to pay back any outstanding debt at a relatively quick rate.

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Joe Mabel // Wikimedia Commons

#28. University of Washington-Bothell Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,258,000
- 10-year NPV: $176,000
- Graduation rate: 65%
- Median debt: $13,000

Students at the Bothell campus of the University of Washington can earn a fully-credited UW degree in one of 55 different programs. Thanks to the lower cost of the regional campus and the generous financial assistance it offers, 61% of them are able to do it without accruing any debt. This is particularly impressive when you consider that 40% of the 2019 freshman class would be the first in their families to earn a college degree, and therefore often coming from families who lack the economic ability to pay the student’s way through.

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Broran28 // Wikimedia Commons

#27. University of Washington-Tacoma Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,263,000
- 10-year NPV: $182,000
- Graduation rate: 59%
- Median debt: $13,000

The third and final University of Washington campus, the Tacoma campus is an urban-serving university with more than 5,000 students in attendance. Because of its location, many students transfer to the school after first completing two years at a local community college. The rigorous education opportunities and the financial aid opportunities (in 2017–2018 UW Tacoma handed out over $50.1 million in assistance) are the major draws for students who decide to complete their degrees here.

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Pi.1415926535 // Wikimedia Commons

#26. University of Connecticut-Avery Point

- 40-year NPV: $1,276,000
- 10-year NPV: $182,000
- Graduation rate: 58%
- Median debt: $18,750

A sea-grant institution, the University of Connecticut-Avery Point is surrounded by water on three sides, a perfect fit for a school whose mission is to contribute to the understanding and solution of problems that stem from the intersection of people and the ocean. The most popular majors at Avery Point are maritime studies and marine science, but hundreds of students each year also choose to begin one of UConn’s 110 other majors here before transferring to a larger campus. For out-of-state students, the campus is a cheaper option than the school’s main campuses, making this a budget-friendly route to obtaining a UConn degree.

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Lee Sie // Wikimedia Commons

#25. University of California-San Diego

- 40-year NPV: $1,277,000
- 10-year NPV: $155,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $16,400

Of the 130 undergraduate majors offered at the University of California-San Diego, the most popular by far is biology, followed by mathematics, economics, computer science & engineering, and chemistry. These STEM programs are top of the line, taught by 164 faculty members who are also National Academy members, Nobel Prize winners, and National Medal of Science winners. UC San Diego students can feel confident that they’re investing in a high-quality education at a school whose reputation will take them far.

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Beyond My Ken // Wikimedia Commons

#24. CUNY Bernard M Baruch College

- 40-year NPV: $1,280,000
- 10-year NPV: $208,000
- Graduation rate: 68%
- Median debt: $8,437

Located in the heart of New York City, CUNY Bernard M Baruch College has been recognized for its support of the social and financial mobility of students who come from low-income backgrounds. This accomplishment makes perfect sense when you consider the college’s location. Baruch’s 18,600 students are a stone’s throw from some of the best internships and most-prestigious companies in the country, an undeniable advantage, especially when you consider the 150,000 alumni who can help recent graduates land roles in these institutions.

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#23. University of Connecticut-Waterbury Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,283,000
- 10-year NPV: $189,000
- Graduation rate: 58%
- Median debt: $18,750

The majority of students at the Waterbury campus at the University of Connecticut complete their first two years here before transferring to the institution’s main campus in Storrs to finish their degree. A select number of students elect to complete the entirety of their program at Waterbury, which offers nine bachelor’s degrees, thanks to its cheaper cost of tuition (on par with UConn Avery Point) and smaller class size. Located in a smaller community, many Waterbury students also find it easier to land resume-padding internships and job shadowing opportunities.

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#22. University of Connecticut-Stamford

- 40-year NPV: $1,288,000
- 10-year NPV: $193,000
- Graduation rate: 61%
- Median debt: $18,750

The University of Connecticut-Stamford offers bachelor’s degrees in 10 different fields of study, including digital media design, economics, and political science, as well as four master’s degrees. Its location allows students to pursue internships, field placements, and jobs with some of the most-recognizable companies in the country, including several Fortune 500 companies, investment institutions, and nonprofit organizations. These connections allow alumni to land stable jobs that allow them to quickly pay off the relatively small about of student debt they carry after graduation.

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#21. University of Virginia-Main Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,291,000
- 10-year NPV: $144,000
- Graduation rate: 94%
- Median debt: $16,500

Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. A highly-competitive institution, UVA only accepts students based on academic merit (90% of students come from the top 10% of their classes), covers 100% of their demonstrated financial need, and goes to great lengths to reduce the level of debt all new alumni carry upon graduation. Incoming students don’t need to worry about money or about reaching the finish line, as 89% of students finish in four years, and 94% complete their programs in six years.

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Yb20061462 // Wikimedia Commons

#20. Binghamton University

- 40-year NPV: $1,298,000
- 10-year NPV: $143,000
- Graduation rate: 83%
- Median debt: $16,750

Binghamton University, home to 13,800 undergraduate students, is located in upstate New York and offers several nationally-ranked programs, including accounting and computer engineering. More than 1,800 employers, like Apple, IBM, Disney, and Google, are drawn to the school’s excellent reputation and return yearly to recruit new seniors. On average, Binghamton graduates enjoy higher starting salaries than the national average—around $57,871 per year.

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Beyond My Ken // Wikimedia Commons

#19. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

- 40-year NPV: $1,299,000
- 10-year NPV: $146,000
- Graduation rate: 85%
- Median debt: $17,750

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 1867 and has spent the past 150 years earning its reputation as a leader in education, research, and public engagement. One way it continually demonstrates its leadership among public universities is through the success of its students, 89% of whom find full-time employment or earn grad school acceptance within six months of graduation. Illinois also goes above and beyond to ensure that this type of success is available to everyone, by guaranteeing free tuition and fees for in-state students whose families make under $61,000 a year, and funding education of other low-income students through the Illinois Promise program.

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#18. University of California-Los Angeles

- 40-year NPV: $1,300,000
- 10-year NPV: $162,000
- Graduation rate: 91%
- Median debt: $14,544

The most applied-to university in the country, the University of California-Los Angeles received 100,000 freshman applications in 2020. While UCLA offers more than 125 undergraduate majors, it’s the doctoral programs that really stand apart, as 40 of them rank among the top 10 in the country in their respective fields. UCLA isn’t cheap by any means, but students have hope for financial aid (more than half receive some help from the school), and the reputation of the school and connections it provides go a long way in making the investment well worth it.

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Idawriter // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

- 40-year NPV: $1,313,000
- 10-year NPV: $142,000
- Graduation rate: 84%
- Median debt: $21,110

The main campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is located in Blacksburg, Virginia, offers 110 undergraduate majors, and educates 34,440 students in an average class size of 14 students per faculty member. Architecture, education, agriculture & forestry, and electrical engineering are among the school’s top-ranked programs. Graduation rates at Virginia Tech are on the rise, with 83.4% of students finishing their programs within six years (as of 2009).

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#16. University of Maryland-College Park

- 40-year NPV: $1,330,000
- 10-year NPV: $151,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $16,500

The University of Maryland-College Park campus is nestled just outside of Washington D.C. and is home to more than 41,000 students. The public college offers 90 majors across 12 colleges, for the low yearly tuition of $10,778 for in-state residents and $36,890 for out-of-state-residents. The economic cost, as well as the reach of the 352,000 strong alumni body, makes this school an excellent choice for Maryland students.

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#15. Augusta University

- 40-year NPV: $1,360,000
- 10-year NPV: $192,000
- Graduation rate: 27%
- Median debt: $11,869

Augusta University is Georgia’s health, sciences, and medical college, a classification it bears proudly. Of the 9,274 total students enrolled in the school, the vast majority are in one of these fields, although Agusta does offer other liberal arts majors like elementary education and graphic design. Tuition is incredibly low, ranging between $3,446 and $14,189 per year, making it affordable even without the assistance of financial aid.

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Jha4ceb at wts wikivoyage // Wikimedia Commons

#14. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

- 40-year NPV: $1,364,000
- 10-year NPV: $176,000
- Graduation rate: 91%
- Median debt: $18,148

Crowned the best public university in the United States by QS World University Rankings, the University of Michigan retains 97% of its freshman and graduates 92% of them within six years. Of those graduates, two out of three receive financial aid—in total, the school gave away $634.6 million in scholarships and fellowships during the 2018–2019 school year. Undergraduate education isn’t the only area the university excels in, either: in 2019, 102 of its graduate programs were in the top 10 in the country in their respective fields.

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#13. Virginia Military Institute

- 40-year NPV: $1,375,000
- 10-year NPV: $143,000
- Graduation rate: 77%
- Median debt: $19,500

The oldest state-supported military college in the United States, Virginia Military Institute prepares its civilian soldiers for military and civilian leadership. The school demands a high level of achievement in all 14 of its majors but rewards hard work with financial assistance, which is typically granted to over 83% of students. In all, 79% of students who begin their education at VMI graduate from the school within six years.

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#12. University of California-Berkeley

- 40-year NPV: $1,383,000
- 10-year NPV: $170,000
- Graduation rate: 91%
- Median debt: $12,643

U.S. News & World Report crowned the University of California-Berkeley the #1 public university in the world, thanks to its small class sizes (17.8:1), high-quality offerings (over 350 degree programs), decorated faculty, and budget-conscious tuition. To that last point, Berkeley graduates finish with less debt, on average, than students at any other California State University, $18,225 at UC Berkeley vs. $22,585 everywhere else.

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#11. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

- 40-year NPV: $1,413,000
- 10-year NPV: $160,000
- Graduation rate: 79%
- Median debt: $16,500

Sandwiched between San Francisco and Los Angeles, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo was founded in 1901. Its most popular majors are business administration, mechanical engineering, and biological sciences, a full year of which cost in-state students a mere $9,000. The campus has excellent retention and six-year graduation rates, at 93% and 79% respectively.

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jcvertin // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Michigan Technological University

- 40-year NPV: $1,430,000
- 10-year NPV: $185,000
- Graduation rate: 67%
- Median debt: $19,500

From the start, Michigan Technological University is concerned about students’ budgets, standing apart as one of a small number of schools in the country that doesn’t require an application fee from prospective students. From there, it keeps tuition costs as low as possible, $16,130 for in-state residents, while still imparting a high-quality education. Finally, the school sets its students up for incredible career success, enabling them to land jobs where the average mid-career salary is $101,000.

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#9. New Jersey Institute of Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,453,000
- 10-year NPV: $169,000
- Graduation rate: 62%
- Median debt: $18,250

The New Jersey Institute of Technology is the only public polytechnic university in the East Coast state, offering 125 undergraduate and graduate programs to its 11,400 students. More than 70% of these students receive scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid from the school, averaging about $17,063 per student.

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#8. Missouri University of Science and Technology

- 40-year NPV: $1,548,000
- 10-year NPV: $213,000
- Graduation rate: 64%
- Median debt: $16,998

The third-best engineering college in the United States according to USA Today, Missouri University of Science and Technology offers 99 undergraduate degree programs in total. Its strength in STEM is really what qualifies it as such a good return on investment, as these fields command the highest starting salaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Davidhermanns // Wikimedia Commons

#7. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus

- 40-year NPV: $1,729,000
- 10-year NPV: $246,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $21,500

More than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students are currently receiving a technologically-focused education at Georgia Institute of Technology. Home to six colleges, Georgia Tech offers 44 undergraduate majors, many of which are nationally-ranked. The cost of tuition for in-state students is as low as $10,258, and $31,370 for out of state students.

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Jim.henderson // Wikimedia Commons

#6. SUNY Maritime College

- 40-year NPV: $1,761,000
- 10-year NPV: $210,000
- Graduation rate: 60%
- Median debt: $20,000

Concentrated on creating leaders in the global marine transportation industry, SUNY Maritime College only offers 11 undergraduate majors. Located just 30 minutes from the heart of Manhattan, the school also offers four U.S. Coast Guard License programs and several ROTC options. With average class sizes of 21 students, attendees get enough individual attention that well over half (66%) are able to graduate within 150% of their program length.

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Elisa.rolle // Wikimedia Commons

#5. Colorado School of Mines

- 40-year NPV: $1,794,000
- 10-year NPV: $203,000
- Graduation rate: 77%
- Median debt: $21,915

Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Golden, Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines has a student body of 5,900, who flock to the school to study engineering and applied science. Of the 80.5% of students who graduate from Mines, 95% were working in their chosen industry or pursuing higher education. On average, recent grads earn a starting salary of $69,375 with their bachelor’s degrees.

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U.S. Department of Energy // Flickr

#4. California State University Maritime Academy

- 40-year NPV: $1,818,000
- 10-year NPV: $265,000
- Graduation rate: 63%
- Median debt: $20,500

One of the most specialized schools in the California State University system, California State University Maritime Academy educates 1,051 students in marine engineering technology, marine transportation, mechanical engineering, oceanography, facilities engineering technology, and maritime affairs. The only degree-granting maritime academy on the west coast, CalState Maritime requires all students to study abroad and hold at least one summer internship. These obligations serve students well, as 92% are employed in their chosen field within three months of graduation, many earning beyond $70,000 in their first position.

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Ktr101 // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Massachusetts Maritime Academy

- 40-year NPV: $1,869,000
- 10-year NPV: $246,000
- Graduation rate: 75%
- Median debt: $23,250

Located on Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy offers eight undergraduate degrees in a highly-regimented setting. While the strict environment may not suit every applicant, those who make it through the academy fare well, with 10% going into military service and the rest finding employment in their field within 90 days of graduation. Tuition is incredibly low for Massachusetts residents, at $1,890, and not much higher for New England regional students, at $7,130.

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#2. United States Merchant Marine Academy

- 40-year NPV: $1,949,000
- 10-year NPV: $298,000
- Graduation rate: 78%
- Median debt: $6,500

A federal service academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy is a highly-selective university that equips graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree, a U.S. Coast Guard License, and an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. Rather than pay tuition, Midshipmen must repay the U.S. government (which covers all tuition and room & board costs) with either five years of active duty in a branch of the armed forces, or five years in the U.S. Maritime industry as well as eight years as an officer in the reserve forces of a branch of the armed forces. Even if a graduate chooses to take another career path after completing their obligation, their time in the service prepares them for almost every industry under the sun.

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Billy Hathorn // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Maine Maritime Academy

- 40-year NPV: $2,043,000
- 10-year NPV: $251,000
- Graduation rate: 66%
- Median debt: $27,000

Finally, the Maine Maritime Academy has been declared the public college with the best return on investment by the study. The smallest student body on our list, only 950 individuals are currently enrolled, studying engineering, management, science, and transportation. Retention and graduation rates are well above average at the academy, as is the job placement rate, with over 90% of students landing a full-time role within 90 days after graduation.

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