Study: How to Get the Most Bang for Your College Buck

You can compare different colleges using numerous variants. For example, you can rank colleges based on which ones have the best basketball teams, or the lowest dropout rates. Or you can rank universities based on which ones have the biggest business schools, or the most environmentally-friendly features. And now, thanks to a new report from PayScale Inc. a company that specializes in employee compensation data, according to the PayScale website prospective university students can compare different colleges based on potential earning power.

The report aptly titled "Which Colleges Are Worth Your Investment?" endeavors to rank universities and colleges that boast the highest graduate earnings in comparison to the cost of education. PayScale compiled the data using the following method: it calculated the average sticker price cost for a specific college in 2009, and then calculated the average amount of money that graduates from that college would make over a 30-year period. Afterwards, the cost of college would be deducted from the 30-year earnings, which would then determine the earning power of a particular school’s graduates in relation to the cost of an undergraduate degree. In total, the list features 852 schools, ranging from big name universities like Harvard University to smaller and lesser known colleges like Merrimack College.

Though interesting as the study may be, there are still several pitfalls to the information provided. One of the biggest things that the report fails to account for is the number of students who pursue graduate degrees. Those who earn graduate degrees typically hold higher positions and earn more pay, but this entire group of students was left out of the report, undoubtedly bringing down the "earning power" index of schools that offer popular graduate health care, business, and law programs. This may explain why most of the high-ranked schools on the list boast strong engineering programs above all else engineering graduates holding a bachelor’s degree typically earn more than bachelor’s degree holders in other fields. Yet, the salaries for students with graduate degrees in health care and law are comparable or higher than engineering salaries.

Another thing overlooked in the report is the fact that the majority of students who attend college do not actually pay the sticker price for their education. Many receive grants and scholarships directly from the school, which would reduce the cost of education at some colleges. In addition, students attending some more expensive schools would typically take out student loans with high interest rates, which means that some students may end up paying more than the sticker price for their education.

All in all, the report provided by PayScale Inc. is not free of faults by any means. But students looking to research different colleges can still find it immensely useful in comparing schools as long as they remember to read the information with a proverbial grain of salt.

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