Is college worth it? I’ll let you ponder the metaphysical aspects of that question, but in terms of income, the answer is yes—over a long, long time.
The good people at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce crunched the numbers on 4,500 schools and found that in the long term, private four-year degrees are the way to go, with an average economic gain over 40 years of $838,000 (after subtracting school costs), with graduates of the top 36 schools pulling in more than double that. You can see how your alma mater pans out by typing it into the chart here (scroll down).
Best long-term plan: Four-year private, nonprofit colleges. These pricey degrees take a while to bear their fruits. For example, Babson College, a private college in Massachusetts, ranks 304th in value at 10 years, but 7th after 40 years, with a payoff of $1.98 million—edging out Harvard University at $1.96 million.
Best short-term plan: A two-year certificate or associate’s degree can have a high return on investment after 10 years, particularly in nursing. Veeb Nassau County School of Practical Nursing and Putnam Westchester BOCES-Practical Nursing Program rock 40-year payoffs of $1.4 million, which are in line with the payoffs of four-year degrees from Northwestern University or the University of Chicago. #gonursing
Avoid: For-profit colleges. They’re just not worth it. Over 40 years, private college degrees pay off nearly $300,000 more.
What about public universities? Some can be good deals over a 10-year period. Here’s the thing: A private, nonprofit college is worth $8,000 more annually after 10 years, which adds up fast in the ensuing years. For example, over 40 years, only one of the University of California schools is in the top 100, and that’s the University of California at Berkeley, at No. 80; the next six schools in the University of California system are ranked from 111th through 327th.
It’s important to note that career fields of graduates are not considered here, nor are graduate degrees—and at top schools such as Harvard University (No. 8 over 40 years), a large majority of students go on to obtain business, law, or medical degrees, which sway incomes upward.
Notable screamin’ deals:
- Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and St. Louis College of Pharmacy top the list of all schools, paying off big both short- and long-term. Over 40 years, their degrees are worth $2.7 million. This is likely because pharmacists have an entry-level salary of $1o6,000.
- Maine Maritime Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are public two-year schools that rank in the top 10 of all schools for long-term returns, with degrees worth roughly $2 million over 40 years—figures that are right in line with Stanford University, Harvard University, and Georgetown University.