Public college in every state with the best ROI
Since at least the post-World War II period, a college education has been considered a gateway to the American middle class, enabling Americans to build careers and accumulate wealth that can be passed on to their family.
But college is expensive. Nearly 45 million Americans are saddled with $1.64 trillion in student loan debt. Sixty-nine percent of the graduating class of 2019 took out student loans, and their average debt is $29,900, according to studentloanhero.com. Studies have indicated high student debt can have harmful consequences for the economy, such as delaying homeownership and postponing starting a family.
The escalating cost of university education, as well as soaring student loan debt, have raised questions about whether college is worth the expense. One recent report said it is.
According to a 2019 study from Georgetown University, workers with a bachelor's degree on average earn 80% more than those who only graduated high school. Stacker compiled a list of the public colleges with the best return on investment (ROI) in every state, using the study by Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf at Georgetown University. Public colleges that primarily issue bachelor's degrees were considered. The college with the highest 40-year ROI in every state was included. The study incorporated net present value, that calculates future earnings based on income ten and forty years, respectively, after starting college.
Schools with the best ROI range from small schools with enrollments of fewer than 1,000 undergraduates to large state universities with student bodies of up to 40,000 undergraduates. Virtually all the students at the public college in every state with the best ROI have a debt load below the national average.
The schools that provide the "best bang for the buck" do so in various ways. Some schools offer special classes in areas like STEM, health care, and maritime services that steer graduates to jobs in those fields, and others focus on startup creation, merit programs, and connecting students to employers.
Peruse Stacker’s list to find out more about how each institution is providing the best value for its students.
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Alabama: Auburn University
- Public colleges considered in Alabama: 13
- Auburn University statistics
- 40-year net present value: $995,000
- 10-year net present value: $81,000
- Graduation rate: 76%
- Median debt: $17,000
Besides its powerhouse sports programs, Auburn University is known for its curriculum that includes business, management, engineering, biomedical sciences, and education. A Princeton Review synopsis of Auburn found that 97% of recent graduates believed their Auburn education prepared them for future opportunities. Auburn is also known for its robust alumni network, and the average freshman retention rate is 91%, which indicates a high level of student satisfaction.
Alaska: University of Alaska Anchorage
- Public colleges considered in Alaska: 3
- University of Alaska Anchorage statistics
- 40-year net present value: $963,000
- 10-year net present value: $112,000
- Graduation rate: 24%
- Median debt: $9,597
The University of Alaska Anchorage predates Alaska becoming a state by five years and was founded in 1954. The institution is a public research university focused on research on the Arctic. Nursing, management, and accounting are popular areas of study. The university offers $12,000 to high school students in Alaska who are in the top 10% of their class through their junior year, by way of its UA Scholars Award program.
Arizona: Arizona State University-West
- Public colleges considered in Arizona: 7
- Arizona State University-West statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,041,000
- 10-year net present value: $147,000
- Graduation rate: 61%
- Median debt: $14,000
Arizona State University - West has a freshman retention rate of 83%. That's a good indicator of student satisfaction at the university. In its annual rankings of colleges, U.S. News and World Report in 2019 ranked Arizona State University as the most innovative institution of higher learning in the United States. ASU is known for business, psychology, and journalism and communication.
Arkansas: University of Arkansas
- Public colleges considered in Arkansas: 9
- University of Arkansas statistics
- 40-year net present value: $944,000
- 10-year net present value: $102,000
- Graduation rate: 63%
- Median debt: $14,181
The University of Arkansas, located near the Ozark Mountains, was once the stomping grounds of Hillary and Bill Clinton, who taught law at the college in Fayetteville. The university has graduated leaders in business and government, including Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and Sen. J. William Fulbright, who helped found the Fulbright Scholarship Program, the largest international exchange program in the world. Among the most popular areas of the curriculum are business, engineering, and health.
California: California State University Maritime Academy
- Public colleges considered in California: 31
- California State University Maritime Academy statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,818,000
- 10-year net present value: $265,000
- Graduation rate: 63%
- Median debt: $20,500
California State University Maritime Academy is located in Vallejo, California, in the San Francisco region. The school has an enrollment of just 975 undergraduate students and is one of the smaller schools on the list. As you might expect by its name, popular majors include marine science, business, and mechanical engineering. The school's website claims 92% of its graduates are employed within three months of graduation.
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Colorado: Colorado School of Mines
- Public colleges considered in Colorado: 12
- Colorado School of Mines statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,794,000
- 10-year net present value: $203,000
- Graduation rate: 77%
- Median debt: $21,915
Colorado School of Mines, located in Golden, Colorado, 15 miles from Denver, was started for miners in the 19th century and today is focused on science and engineering. Graduates are known for their work ethic and problem-solving skills and are sought by companies and governments all over the world. The school is involved in interstellar prospecting and exploration. Undergraduates can work as research assistants on projects through the Mines Undergraduate Research Fellowship (MURF). At commencement, graduates receive a silver diploma engraved with the degree instead of a traditional diploma.
Connecticut: University of Connecticut-Stamford
- Public colleges considered in Connecticut: 8
- University of Connecticut-Stamford statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,288,000
- 10-year net present value: $193,000
- Graduation rate: 61%
- Median debt: $18,750
The University of Connecticut-Stamford, founded in 1952, has about 1,700 students and is part of the University of Connecticut college system. Stamford is a hub of financial institutions. Because of this, UConn-Stamford students have opportunities at internships and employment at Fortune 500 companies and investment and banking institutions such as Pitney Bowes, Gartner, and Synchrony Financial.
Delaware: University of Delaware
- Public colleges considered in Delaware: 2
- University of Delaware statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,214,000
- 10-year net present value: $146,000
- Graduation rate: 82%
- Median debt: $21,250
The history of the University of Delaware can be traced back to 1743, and it is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the nation. Its alumni include Joe Biden and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. This university has more than 150 majors and is known for its STEM and health-related programs. Another aspect of the school is that it offers a master's degree in the year after students receive their bachelor's degree.
Florida: University of Florida-Online
- Public colleges considered in Florida: 13
- University of Florida-Online statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,211,000
- 10-year net present value: $161,000
- Graduation rate: NA
- Median debt: $15,000
The University of Florida says on its website that the school, located in Gainesville, Florida, has "the most affordable online university program in the nation." The university offers more than 200 degree and certificate programs online. U.S. News and World Report said the university's online program was the #4 best in the nation and has been offering distance learning since 2001-2002. The most popular majors at the university are business administration and management and nursing.
Georgia: Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
- Public colleges considered in Georgia: 17
- Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus statistics
- 40-year net present value: $1,729,000
- 10-year net present value: $246,000
- Graduation rate: 86%
- Median debt: $21,500
Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as Georgia Tech, is a world-famous public research university with a reputation for preparing its graduates for the real world. Undergraduates told Princeton Review that they found the university's engineering, science, and business programs were "rigorous" and "challenging." Students participate in competitions to build startup companies during the school year and are encouraged to create innovative ideas.
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