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Rankings Compare College Costs to Future Income

FILE - Prospective students tour Georgetown University's campus in Washington, July 10, 2013.

Most students and their families quickly dive into rankings when searching for the “best colleges and universities.”

However, Georgetown University, itself on many of those “best college” lists, has veered from rankings based on grade-point averages, admission rates and SAT scores, and come up with a new metric, ranking institutions of higher education based on the financial return students receive from their investment in the school.

Traditional private, four-year schools that offer bachelor’s degrees have the highest returns on investment not just immediately after graduation, but 40 years after enrollment, Georgetown’s report on the ranking says.

“For example, Babson College, a private college in Massachusetts, ranks 304th in net present value at the 10-year horizon, but ranks seventh at the 40-year horizon,” Georgetown’s University Center on Education and the Workforce said. Its detailed project included 4,500 schools that offer degrees and certificates.

Tops on the list for return on investment over 40 years was Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, a private nonprofit institution that costs about $50,000 per year. It was calculated to return $385,000 at 10 years, $1.3 million at 20 years, and $2.72 million on that investment to the graduate after 40 years.

FILE - Students walk on the Stanford University campus, March 14, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - Students walk on the Stanford University campus, March 14, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif.

By comparison, the private, nonprofit, four-year Stanford University in California that ranked No. 5 on the Georgetown list would return $307,000 in 10 years, $1.013 million in 20 years; and $2.068 million in 40. Tuition and fees are about the same as Albany College of Pharmacy.

Those calculations are published prices and do not include financial aid discounts.

“Everyone is asking, ‘Is college worth it?’ and we set out to try to find an answer,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author and CEW director in a statement. “Not only will it help students, but this kind of information on the costs and benefits of higher education holds institutions more accountable.”

Carnevale served for a decade as vice president for public leadership at the Educational Testing Service, the largest private nonprofit testing service, which administers the SAT and other tests that are required or highly recommended for admission into higher-education programs.

Data from some obvious affordable schools CEW could not gain access to include the U.S. service academies. Those schools do not collect tuition and fees, and students are given stipends to pay for expenses like dry cleaning, barbers and laundry. Admission and graduation is exchanged for service in the U.S. military after graduation.

And who’s who in Georgetown’s Top 20? Some names you don’t typically see in the popular annual rankings and careers that you won’t find on many other lists. (Hint: Get your sea legs on.)

Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (N.Y.)
St. Louis College of Pharmacy (Mo.)
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Mass.)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Mass.)
Stanford University (Calif.)
Maine Maritime Academy (Maine)
Babson College (Mass.)
Harvard University (Mass.)
Georgetown University (D.C.)
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (N.Y.)
University of the Sciences (Pa.)
St Paul’s School of Nursing-Queens (N.Y.)
Massachusetts Maritime Academy (Mass.)
Harvey Mudd College (Calif.)
Stevens Institute of Technology (N.J.)
University of Pennsylvania (Pa.)
California State University Maritime Academy (Calif.)
California Institute of Technology (Calif.)
Colorado School of Mines (Colo.)
Bentley University (Mass.)

No, that’s not a typo, you are reading correctly: Pharmacy and maritime schools offer excellent return on investment along with notable STEM colleges and universities.

For-profit and certificate schools scored the lowest return on investment, and include beauty, rabbinical, ethnic and arts schools.