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Financial Planning > College Planning

15 cheapest colleges with best job value

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PIMCO chief Bill Gross famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) questioned the value of a college education, considering tuition costs against future earnings.

“A mind is a precious thing to waste, so why are millions of America’s students wasting theirs by going to college?” Gross asked in 2011. “All of us who have been there know an undergraduate education is primarily a four-year vacation interrupted by periodic bouts of cramming or Google plagiarizing, but at least it used to serve a purpose. It weeded out underachievers and proved at a minimum that you could pass an SAT test.”

Maybe there is something in what Gross said for students who choose schools with high tuition that leave them paying off loans for years after graduation. But not every university charges a king’s ransom for the right to earn a degree. (And we’ll wager that most students don’t fit the slacker stereotype described by Gross.)

We started wondering which colleges offered the best return on investment. The website undertook the task of figuring out which schools made for the best investments.

(Check out 14 best paying jobs for college business majors: 2014)

They started by only looking at colleges that charged no more than the average cost of a public institution for an in-state student. This year, the average is under $15,000 per year. The website then turned to for salary information for the colleges deemed affordable to determine which had the best return on investment after 15 years.

If you need to be convinced that a college education can be a good investment, read on. 


15. Michigan Tech

Location: Houghton, Mich.

4-Year Tuition: $53,880

15-Year Return: $1,154,250

ROI: 21 to 1

Starting Salary: $59,200

Mid-Career Salary: $94,700


14. New Jersey Institute of Technology

Location: Newark, N.J.

4-Year Tuition: $51,200

15-Year Return: $1,139,250

ROI: 22 to 1

Starting Salary: $53,900

Mid-Career Salary: $98,000


13. University of California – San Diego

Location: La Jolla, Calif.

4-Year Tuition: $48,768

15-Year Return: $1,127,250

ROI: 23 to 1

Starting Salary: $49,300

Mid-Career Salary: $101,000


12. University of California – Berkeley

Location: Berkeley, Calif.

4-Year Tuition: $51,456

15-Year Return: $1,242,750

ROI: 24 to 1

Starting Salary: $54,700

Mid-Career Salary: $111,000


11. California Poly

Location: San Luis Obispo, Calif.

4-Year Tuition: $34,092

15-Year Return: $1,148,250

ROI: 33 to 1

Starting Salary: $54,000

Mid-Career Salary: $99,100


10. South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Location: Rapid City, S.D.

4-Year Tuition: $32,960

15-Year Return: $1,156,500

ROI: 35 to 1

Starting Salary: $62,400

Mid-Career Salary: $91,800

15-Year Return: $1,156,500


9. Missouri University of Science and Technology

Location: Rolla, Mo.

4-Year Tuition: $31,784

15-Year Return: $1,185,000

ROI: 37 to 1

Starting Salary: $61,900

Mid-Career Salary: $96,100


8. Georgia Tech

Location: Atlanta

4-Year Tuition: $33,032

15-Year Return: $1,265,250

ROI: 38 to 1

Starting Salary: $60,700

Mid-Career Salary: $108,000


7. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Location: Socorro, N.M.

4-Year Tuition: $22,856

15-Year Return: $1,125,000

ROI: 49 to 1

Starting Salary: $50,500

Mid-Career Salary: $99,500


6. SUNY Maritime College (State University of New York)

Location: Queens, N.Y.

4-Year Tuition: $23,480

15-Year Return: $1,315,500

ROI: 56 to 1

Starting Salary: $59,400

Mid-Career Salary: $116,000


5. Colorado School of Mines

Location: Golden, Colo.

4-Year Tuition: $14,400

15-Year Return: $1,295,250

ROI: 89 to 1

Starting Salary: $66,700

Mid-Career Salary: $106,000


4. Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Location: Buzzards Bay, Mass.

4-Year Tuition: $5,860

15-Year Return: $1,175,250

ROI: 200 to 1

Starting Salary: $54,700

Mid-Career Salary: $102,000


3. United States Air Force Academy

Location: Colorado Springs, Colo.

4-Year Tuition: Free

15-Year Return: $1,304,250


Starting Salary: $64,900

Mid-Career Salary: $109,000


2. United States Military Academy

Location: West Point, N.Y.

4-Year Tuition: Free

15-Year Return: $1,455,750


Starting Salary: $74,000

Mid-Career Salary: $120,000


1. United States Naval Academy

Location: Annapolis, Md.

Tuition: Free

15-Year Return: $1,560,750


Starting Salary: $77,100

Mid-Career Salary: $131,000


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