15 States With the Best Colleges for Return on Investment

What do you pay attention to when shopping around for a college? You might be impressed with the campus or interested in the various student clubs and activities. But that’s not enough of a reason to pick a certain college. One of the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing where to study is how your earning potential compares with the cost of your education.

Roughly 7 in 10 college seniors who attended a public or nonprofit school graduated with an average student loan debt of $30,100, so finding a good investment is important. A fancy degree won’t mean much if you can barely pay the bills.

Payscale created a map highlighting some of the best schools in each state based on their net 20-year return on investment. The list contains a mixture of state and private schools, as well as one federally funded school. Let’s take a closer look at the 15 states with the best colleges for return on investment.

15. New Hampshire

New Hampshire scenery

New Hampshire | Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Dartmouth College

  • 20-year net return on investment: $650,000
  • Total four-year cost: $257,000
  • Graduation rate: 95%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $23,200

Dartmouth College alumni earn an average salary of $60,800 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $119,000 mid-career. Although the total four-year cost of attendance is quite hefty at $257,000, students who come from families earning less than $100,000 a year are eligible for tuition remission. Some notable Dartmouth alumni include Shonda Rhimes, Daniel Webster, and Nelson Rockefeller.

14. South Dakota

Sioux Falls, South Dakoka

Sioux Falls, South Dakota | iStock.com/shyflygirl

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

  • 20-year net return on investment: $653,000
  • Total four-year cost: $89,700
  • Graduation rate: 54%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $29,200

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology alumni earn an average salary of $65,300 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $109,000 mid-career. The school offers various financial aid programs to help offset the cost of attendance. Some types of aid available include scholarships for incoming freshmen, departmental scholarships, and continuing student scholarships.

13. Maryland

Maryland state capitol

Maryland Capitol | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Capitol College

  • 20-year net return on investment: $653,000
  • Total four-year cost: $135,000
  • Graduation rate: 41%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $37,000

Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Capitol College (now known as Capitol Technology University) alumni include chief information security officer, security engineer, and information security manager. The school offers several sources of funding for prospective students through participation in the Yellow Ribbon GI Educational Enhancement Program, as well as its Blue Ribbon Program.

12. Virginia

Richmond, Virginia, USA

Richmond, Virginia | iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Virginia Military Institute

  • 20-year net return on investment: $660,000
  • Total four-year cost: $106,000
  • Graduation rate: 71%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $29,500

Virginia Military Institute alumni earn an average salary of $54,100 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $108,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Virginia Military Institute alumni include engineering project manager, mechanical engineer, and business process/management consultant. One program through which the school offers financial aid is through its Institute Scholars Program, which covers the cost of tuition and fees for up to eight full-time semesters.

11. Pennsylvania

Skyline of downtown Pittsburgh

Skyline of downtown Pittsburgh | iStock.com/f11photo

Carnegie Mellon University  

  • 20-year net return on investment: $678,000
  • Total four-year cost: $251,000
  • Graduation rate: 88%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $31,500

Carnegie Mellon University alumni earn an average salary of $71,700 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $126,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Carnegie Mellon University alumni include software engineer, senior software engineer, and data scientist. The school offers funding to eligible students through programs, such as the Presidential Scholarship and the Carnegie Scholarship.

10. Missouri

St. Louis Arch

St. Louis Arch | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Missouri University of Science and Technology 

  • 20-year net return on investment: $713,000
  • Total four-year cost: $87,400
  • Graduation rate: 63%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $27,500

Missouri University of Science and Technology alumni earn an average salary of $64,000 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $110,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Missouri University of Science and Technology alumni include engineering project manager, electrical engineer, and software engineer. Financial aid includes awards, such as the Chancellor’s Scholarship, which is a four-year scholarship awarded to 15 eligible students each year.

9. Maine

Maine scenery

A water view of Maine | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

Maine Maritime Academy

  • 20-year net return on investment: $725,000
  • Total four-year cost: $100,000
  • Graduation rate: 70%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $43,200

Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Maine Maritime Academy alumni include district sales manager, maintenance manager, and director of career services. The school offers several sources of funding for prospective students through a mix of federal, state, and institutional aid programs. One notable option is a tuition waiver for eligible students of Native American decent.  

8. Indiana

Indianapolis skyline

Indianapolis | iStock.com

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology  

  • 20-year net return on investment: $738,000
  • Total four-year cost: $232,000
  • Graduation rate: 78%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $45,500

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology alumni earn an average salary of $67,500 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $108,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology alumni include senior mechanical engineer, project engineer, and software engineer. The college offers several financial awards, including the Rose-Hulman Merit Scholarship. All admitted students are automatically considered for the scholarship.  

7. Michigan

Lansing, Michigan

Lansing, Michigan | iStock.com/Henryk Sadura

Kettering University

  • 20-year net return on investment: $743,000
  • Total four-year cost: $208,000
  • Graduation rate: 57%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $41,700

Kettering University alumni earn an average salary of $66,300 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $105,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Kettering University alumni include electrical engineer, product engineer, and mechanical engineer. Financial aid includes awards, such as merit scholarships, transfer student scholarships, and scholarships for international students.

6. New Jersey

Student studying outside on grass

Student studying in New Jersey | William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Stevens Institute of Technology

  • 20-year net return on investment: $800,000
  • Total four-year cost: $244,000
  • Graduation rate: 82%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $45,800

Stevens Institute of Technology alumni earn an average salary of $65,600 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $117,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Stevens Institute of Technology alumni include project manager, software engineer, and electrical engineer. Financial aid includes several merit scholarships, including the Edwin A. Stevens Scholarship and the Ann P. Neupauer Scholarship.

5. Georgia

Columbus, Georgia, USA

Columbus, Georgia | iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Georgia Institute of Technology

  • 20-year net return on investment: $824,000
  • Total four-year cost: $96,200
  • Graduation rate: 82%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $31,700

Georgia Institute of Technology alumni earn an average salary of $65,300 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $112,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Georgia Institute of Technology alumni include senior software engineer, software engineer, and software developer. Financial aid includes several merit scholarships, such as the G. Wayne Clough Tech Promise Program and the Godbold Family Foundation Scholarship.

4. Colorado

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Glenwood Springs, Colorado | Visit Glenwood Springs via Facebook

Colorado School of Mines

  • 20-year net return on investment: $883,000
  • Total four-year cost: $123,000
  • Graduation rate: 76%
  • Typical years to graduate: 5 years
  • Average loan amount: $33,400

Colorado School of Mines alumni earn an average salary of $65,200 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $114,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Colorado School of Mines alumni include geophysicist, electrical engineer, and mechanical engineer. Financial aid includes several merit scholarships, such as the President’s Scholarship and the Harvey Scholarship Program.

3. Massachusetts

An aerial view of MIT

An aerial view of MIT | iStock.com/rabbit75_ist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • 20-year net return on investment: $959,000
  • Total four-year cost: $240,000
  • Graduation rate: 91%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $32,200

Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni earn an average salary of $78,300 during the early part of their careers, and they make about $134,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumni include director of engineering, electrical engineer, and software engineer. Roughly 56% of MIT students receive scholarships averaging $38,871 per student. All admitted students are considered for available merit scholarships.

 2. California

field in Thousand Oaks, California

Thousand Oaks, California | trekandshoot/Shutterstock

Harvey Mudd College

  • 20-year net return on investment: $962,000
  • Total four-year cost: $260,000
  • Graduation rate: 90%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $24,400

Harvey Mudd College alumni earn an average salary of $78,500 during the early part of their career, and they make about $131,000 mid-career. Some of the highest-paying jobs held by Harvey Mudd College alumni include senior software engineer, senior project manager, and software engineer. Financial aid includes several merit scholarships, such as the President’s Scholars Program and the Harvey S. Mudd Merit Program.

1. New York

Midtown Manhattan skyline

Midtown Manhattan skyline | iStock.com/Ultima_Gaina

United States Merchant Marine Academy  

  • 20-year net return on investment: $1,056,000
  • Total four-year cost: $33,100
  • Graduation rate: 72%
  • Typical years to graduate: 4 years
  • Average loan amount: $12,300

Some of the highest-paying jobs held by United States Merchant Marine Academy alumni include engineering director, general/operations manager, and engineering project manager. The school lists several sources of outside grants and scholarships on its website.

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