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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Top 10 College Rankings by Return on Investment (ROI) from My Money Blog.


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