Business School: What It Costs and What Graduates Make

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business was named MONEY magazine’s No. 1 school for value. In 2016 the school had an incoming class of about 258, each of whom could expect to pay $148,880 for a four-year education

In a newly released ranking of U.S. undergraduate business programs, the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has been named No. 1 based on educational quality, affordability, and career payoff — one of nine California schools to make the list of 50. It’s the second year in a row the Northern California school has drawn the top spot on Money magazine’s list, part of a larger “Best Colleges” ranking in which UC-Berkeley this year placed fourth overall.

About 258 students entered Berkeley Haas last fall, more than 48% of whom were women. According to Money, a Time Inc. publication, about half the class (48%) will get need-based grants that cut the total four-year cost of their education to an estimated $71,716. (Without aid, they’d pay a much steeper price: $148,880.) When they graduate, they can expect to earn about $72,100 per year in the first years of their careers, the most of any ranked business school. UC-Berkeley grads overall, meanwhile, can expect to make “16% more than their peers from comparable schools,” according to Money senior writer Kim Clark. Perhaps most importantly based on Money’s rankings mechanics, 55% of low-income UC-Berkeley students eventually become upper-middle class — a huge plus in a ranking in which outcomes, particularly “alumni success,” account for one-third of a school’s total score. 

Not mentioned by Money, but pertinent to the discussion: Berkeley Haas was recently named No. 1 in the nation for ROI by PayScale for the second year in a row. The school is No. 5 in Poets&Quants’ inaugural undergraduate program ranking.

Money ranked Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia second among business schools this year, up from third in 2016, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania third, down from second. Rounding out the top five were No. 4 Brown University and No. 5 Babson College. In its “Best Colleges” ranking, Princeton University was No. 1, just ahead of City University of New York (No. 7 on the B-school list).

HEAVY IMPACT OF A NEW INDICATOR 

More than 700 schools met Money’s requirements to be ranked in its general college ranking. The magazine ordered them based on 27 factors in three categories: Quality of Education, Affordability, and Outcomes. Graduation rate and price were, naturally, key metrics, but this year for the first time the magazine added a socioeconomic mobility index that shows the percentage of students each school moves from low-income backgrounds to upper-middle-class jobs by the time the student is 34 years old. Based on data from the nonprofit Equality of Opportunity Project, this socioeconomic mobility metric accounted for the largest portion of schools’ Outcomes score (20%).

Money’s adoption of the socioeconomic mobility indicator was a response to new scholarship on the subject of upward mobility through higher education. “In January of 2017, a team of economists led by Raj Chetty of Stanford published a paper showing data for each college on how many low-income students (i.e., with family incomes in the lowest quintile, or below $25,000 a year) were earning incomes that put them in the top quintile for their age group (earning at least $58,000) by 2014,” Clark writes. Money used the Equality of Opportunity Project’s “mobility rate” because, in the words of study co-author John Friedman, a Brown University economist, that is the indicator that shows “which colleges are contributing to the American Dream.”

To make room for the new metric, Money eliminated two previously used factors: staffing level of schools’ career services offices, and existence of a program linking job-seeking undergrads with working alumni. The magazine also reduced the weight given to early-career earnings factors and a “job meaning” survey, both of which were garnered from salary data and comparison website PayScale.

A PRETTY PENNY

When it talks about total cost, Money calculates tuition, fees, room, board, books, travel, and miscellaneous costs. Yet just as with salaries, debt, and other estimates, the magazine’s estimated net price for four years of education at one of the 50 ranked business schools is likely to be higher than the average price actually paid by most families. For one thing, families will pay less depending on any federal, state, or private scholarships. Money uses an analogy: “If you’re buying a can of soup, you have to pay what the grocery store charges, unless you have a coupon.” But the magazine also heavily weighs ability to repay, using a student loan default risk index and other indicators to judge that measure of affordability.

In the short term, what every family wants to know is how to cut down on up-front cost. And that’s where grants come in. Calculating pre-aid and post-aid costs, Money comes up with some strikingly different figures. Four years at Berkeley Haas costs $148,880 sans aid, for example, and an estimated $71,716 with it — in other words, less than half the original total. And that is nowhere near the most or least expensive school in the ranking. Nearly half the schools — 23 — cost more than $260,000 without aid, “led” by No. 24 USC Marshall School of Business, where an undergraduate degree costs an estimated $290,444. However, 36% of Marshall students get need-based grants and another 18% get merit grants (among the highest percentage for that metric of any school in the ranking), dropping the cost to an estimated $135,580. The school with the highest after-grant cost? No. 10 Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, where aid drops the price tag from the stratospheric ($268,860) to the merely enormous ($160,696).

Meanwhile, the lowest cost on the list comes at either No. 48 Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management ($74,824) before aid, or No 40 University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business ($46,592) after it. Where do the highest percentage of students receive aid? No. 41 Saint Mary’s College of Moraga, California (one of nine California schools on the list), where 69% receive need-based grants and 17% get merit-based ones to help pay down a four-year cost of $258,560 to a more manageable $142,884.

A final metric worth noting: average SAT and ACT scores. In these, No. 24 Washington University of St. Louis Olin Business School is tops, with far and away the highest average SAT score (1500) and tied with two other schools — Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business and the Wharton School — with an average ACT score of 33.