Top 10 College Rankings by Return on Investment (ROI)

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When I was applying to college, my parents went to the drugstore, bought a copy of US News & World Report magazine, and said that I could only apply to a school ranked in the Top 5 for my major (Engineering). That was the only out-of-state or private school that they would consider contributing any of their hard-earned money toward. That was their idea of “value” and “return on investment”.

These days, I am much more skeptical of college rankings. I feel that they are often reverse-engineered. If someone comes up with an intelligent algorithm, runs it, and the names of Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Stanford are not at the very top, what do you think happens? US News & World Report would dump it in the trash, in my opinion. Rankings are tweaked until the “name brand” schools end up on top.

That’s why it always grabs my interest when one of these rankings does NOT have a usual suspect on top. A Georgetown University study took some new federal data and ranked 4,500 colleges and universities by their return on investment. They took into account the actual cost of attendance, future earnings, and potential investment returns.

What school came out #1? Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. You can easily search for any specific school using their tool.

This WaPo article further discusses the results. Here are the top 10 schools based on ROI:

  1. Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  2. St. Louis College of Pharmacy
  3. Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  5. Stanford University
  6. Maine Maritime Academy
  7. Babson College
  8. Harvard University
  9. Georgetown University
  10. United States Merchant Marine Academy

Here’s some more food for thought. For the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the 25th-75th percentile range of SAT scores is 1040-1240 and the acceptance rate is 69%. The average annual cost for a family that earns less than $30k a year is $21,108, while a family earning $110k+ pays $32,700. The median income of former students (who received federal financial aid and were thus in the data) 10 years after entering school is $124,770. Obviously, this is affected by the fact that most students are studying a health science, but it is significantly more accessible to those who didn’t get a perfect SAT score, excel in certain sports, or have alumni connections.

For Harvard University, the 25th-75th percentile range of SAT scores is 1430-1600 and the acceptance rate is 5%. The average annual cost for a family that earns less than $30k a year is zero, while a family earning $110k+ pays $42,123 per year. The median income of former students (who received federal financial aid and were thus in the data) 10 years after entering school is $89,700.

I agree that college isn’t all about your future income, but given the huge impact of student loan debt, it should be one of the factors considered. The outliers noted are the schools focused on pharmacy/health-related fields and maritime academies. If my child had a serious interest in a medical profession and couldn’t get into an elite university, I would certainly take this information into consideration. I hadn’t even heard of these schools before now. Perhaps there are other pockets of “value” a bit further down in the rankings.

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Comments

  1. I like how Georgetown made the top 10. 😉

  2. This specific report looks at a 40 year timeframe.
    I think thats too long. A LOT changes over 40 years. I mean think about it, this i like taking career advice from your grandparents. For one, my understanding is that pharmacy is not as lucrative as it used to be.
    That might have been a great career to enter in the 70’s but not so much today.

  3. ” … average annual cost for a family …”

    Sigh.

    How quickly college and university marketing language has become common in our lives. When I was in college, it was termed “student obligation.” Of course, I am part of a generation which benefited from a much better class of state legislators, who saw the long-range benefits of an educated work force decades down the line. Better for employers, better for tax coffers, better for communities and better for the individual pursuing the opportunity to improve their lot in life and properly funded public education, because … ROI.

  4. “I am much more skeptical of college rankings. I feel that they are often reverse-engineered.”

    Admittedly I didn’t look at the selection criteria for this study very carefully, but it seems suspicious to me that that the methodology that Georgetown University researchers came up shows that Georgetown University is one of the best universities in the United states.

  5. AI can wipe out pharmacy jobs rather quick.

  6. Great catch with the language.
    As others noted, this algo was tweaked to just fit georgetown in top 10 but not top 3 as that would appear biased. Pharmacy was a great career path two even one decade ago. Healthcare in general should be safe from AI taking over, $$ from govt programs etc. But pharmacy in particular, outside of compounding and specialty, I think has the best chance for obsolescence. There’s no way I’m not ordering pills from Amazon.com/drugs in 3 years.

  7. No way Georgetown has access to the numbers that would be necessary to paint this picture in a realistic light.

    Some quotes from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/10/magazine/college-admissions-paul-tough.html:
    “At private, nonprofit four-year colleges — a category that includes most of the nation’s highly selective institutions — 89 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, meaning that almost no one is paying full price.”
    “In 2018 the average tuition-discount rate for freshmen at private, nonprofit universities hit 50 percent for the first time, meaning that colleges were charging students, on average, less than half of their posted tuition rates.”
    “According to Moody’s Investors Service, about a quarter of private American colleges are now operating at a deficit, spending more than they are taking in.”

  8. All signs point to the college bubble deflating over the next ten years. Some believe it’s already starting to happen. Enrollment nationwide has declined for 8 straight years and the number of high school graduates is expected to level off over the next 5, then drop by 10 percent in the 5 years after that.

    All of this means that demand is shrinking and basic economics teaches that either supply must also shrink to maintain price, or supply stays constant and price decreases. USNWR rankings are biased towards universities that spend every year on infrastructure (i.e. new buildings), which cost money to finance and therefore require annual tuition increases.

    Smart and wealthy parents know that they are in the driver’s seat, and the universities know it too. If your child is smart enough to get into multiple desirable universities and you can afford to cover their tuition, then you can essentially shop around the market now for the best merit-based financial aid package. Which causes the universities to lose out on money from wealthy families they might have gotten in the past and instead turn to… who? Lower income families that can’t afford full tuition? No, they get the need-based financial aid (and this number is expected to rise if more of the Hispanic population becomes college-bound). So the universities turn to higher income families whose child has subpar grades but went through multiple SAT prep courses, got a little lucky, and scored just high enough to justify admission. Over time, this in turn hurts the academic quality of the university, which leads to less prestige, less applications, and even less future money. The arms race is coming to an end though… the only question is which college or university will be the Lehman Brothers?

    (I went to a USNWR top-10 public university, loved it, and fully realize that my alma mater may have some hard decisions ahead of itself on both its spending and tuition rates.)

    • “USNWR rankings are biased towards universities that spend every year on infrastructure”

      I don’t see anything in their methodology citing spending on infrastructure.

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