The Millionaire Next Door

Colleges Ranked: Tuition vs. Incomes of Graduates

As I have mentioned before, I am a University of Georgia football fan.  Our arch rival is Georgia Tech.  Yet for 364 days a year, I admire and even like Georgia Tech!  I had many Tech graduates in the MBA classes that I taught at the nearby campus of Georgia State University. These men and women were excellent students, and I can see why Georgia Tech has such an outstanding reputation.

Given these facts I was not all that surprised when Smart Money rated Georgia Tech as Number 1 in its rankings of colleges “. . .where it counts:  in the job market.”  The folks at Smart Money examined three characteristics of 29 million workers in America:  the college that each attended, the corresponding tuition and fees charged them for their undergraduate education, and the amount these workers are now paid in the labor market. 

Smart Money looked at [the incomes of] two groups of alumni: recent grads out for an average of 2 years and mid career alums out 15 years. 

It computed the so-called “Payback Score. .  an average of those two groups, current income expressed as a percentage of the sticker price-tuition and fees.”  The top five with the highest [Payback Score] were: 1. Georgia Tech [221], 2. University of Texas [194], 3. University of Florida [191], 4.  University of Georgia [186], and 5. University of Illinois [184].  The Ivy League school with the highest Payback Score was Princeton University with a 102 score.  Georgia Tech’s Payback Score means that its alumni earn 2.21 times more annually than the estimated cost of tuition and fees where they attended school.  Interestingly, Smart Money’s estimates actually understate the productivity of public universities such as Georgia Tech because it used out of state tuition and fee figures which are significantly higher than in state costs.

4 thoughts on “Colleges Ranked: Tuition vs. Incomes of Graduates”

  1. Interesting study, but I’m disappointed that the analysis didn’t include more universities- say those that have at least 3 top 50 degree programs or something like that. Georgia Tech may be the best bang for the buck out of the 50 schools on the list, but I imagine there are some quality schools that didn’t make the list that would be substantially better values. Brigham Young University, for example, generally ranks one of the top 10 in the nation for bang for the buck in education. I would expect my alma mater, Boise State University, to also score well compared to those listed up above. (shrinking the denominator is easier in this case then increasing the numerator). Of course, we do pretty well on the football field too. And like the football field, I guess we can only win in the contests we’re allowed to participate.

  2. Glad to see that major publications are finally thinking about college education as an investment. US News and similar rankings have conditioned us to focus too much on the quality of the education without regard to the value. I did a similar analysis way back in 2009 (

    The results are better aligned with intuition than with US News. In general, engineering schools and the traditional top-tier Ivy League schools provide the best return on investment. With the exception of Rice and Georgia Tech, the top 10 is not a surprise. But there are a few surprises. Columbia, Duke and Chicago sink in the NPV rankings. Vanderbilt, Northwestern, Washington University, Cornell and Johns Hopkins drop from the top 25 altogether. Also, if in-state tuition is used, Georgia Tech jumps ahead of Harvard and Georgia lands on the list somewhere near UCLA and University of Chicago. In general, residents of Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, California, Illinois, Texas and Florida have a significant incentive to stay in state.

  3. Go Jackets! This is partially why I decided to do undergrad and MBA there. Between the ROI and the alumni network in the south it is a great deal.

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