Colleges That Help Grads Get Top Salaries
At a recent freshmen orientation in Austin, Ott says, another dad shared how Texas helped his son land a well-paying job in computer science at a Houston oil services firm after a summer internship. "The fellow said his son is making more money straight out of college than he did after 30 years," Paul Ott recalls. Both the elder and younger Ott say they'd be more than happy with a graduation present like that.
It's the kind of calculation that ruffles the robes of administrators at the most prestigious universities in the country. It's a blunt bottom-line approach to a postsecondary education, a show-me-the-money college survey. And it's one academic contest that the Ivies don't win.
For decades, the best-known college rankings have tried to encompass everything from alumni giving and "academic reputation" to dorm amenities. But a few years ago, SmartMoney stripped all that away in favor of a simpler benchmark. With help from PayScale, a Seattle-based compensation-data company that maintains salary profiles of 29 million workers, we collected median pay figures for two pools of each school's alums: recent grads (who've been out of school for an average of two years) and midcareer types (an average of 15 years out). For each class, we divided the median alumnus salary by tuition and fees (assuming they paid full price at then-current rates), averaged the results and, finally, converted that result to a percentage figure. The outcome: a measure of return on (tuition) investment that we've dubbed the Payback Score. For example, a hypothetical grad who spent $100,000 to attend college and now earns $150,000 a year would score 150. The higher the score, obviously, the better.
It's admittedly an imperfect bit of math. It doesn't take into account financial aid, at a time when schools say they're increasing it. Nor does it include a host of intangible factors that can make any education more valuable. But a growing number of parents and applicants are giving such calculus more weight, in the face of the steady, recession-proof rise in college costs: Private tuition has increased 70 percent since 2001, to an average of more than $27,000 annually, according to the College Board; public tuition more than doubled over the same stretch. What's worse, a weak job market has made it harder for grads to pay off student loans. Steven Roy Goodman, a college admissions consultant in Washington, D.C., says even the most prestigious schools have more questions to answer about their alumni incomes. "You have to look at the yield from your education," he says. "Not everybody who goes to Columbia becomes a multimillionaire."
Maybe not, but the average Columbia grad can expect to earn $100,000 a year by her mid-30s, according to PayScale -- 2 percent more than a graduate of a top-priced public university at the same stage of life. So does that justify the extra 50 grand that he or she might pay for an Ivy League education, NYC-style? You decide. To help in the process, we used our pragmatic dollars-and-cents metric to examine 50 schools at the highest end of the cost spectrum: the eight Ivies, plus more than 40 of the most expensive non-Ivy private schools and public universities (based on what they charge out-of-state students). We then determined an overall payback ranking as well as a ranking by category. Here, the full transcript on America's best and worst college deals.
The Ivy League
Avg. payback score: 94
Avg. salary for recent grads: $55,463
Avg. salary for midcareer grads: $112,838
Avg. payback score: 79
Avg. salary for recent grads: $46,414
Avg. salary for midcareer grads: $94,181
Avg. payback score: 141
Avg. salary for recent grads: $48,486
Avg. salary for midcareer grads: $89,662
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