ROI DROPPING AMONG LAST YEAR’S TOP PERFORMERS
Last year, Washington & Lee University ranked third with a $952,100 net return over 20 years. This year, Washington & Lee wasn’t even ranked (likely due to not having enough records to qualify). In their place, you’ll find Santa Clara University, a private program that ranks sixth overall (after finishing 14th in 2013-14). At this program, 20-year ROI rose from $736,600 to $830,100, nearly a 13% increase over the previous year. However, this number was undercut by the school’s pedestrian 84% graduation rate. Similarly, Babson College, known for its strong entrepreneurship program, climbed from $850,400 to $896,500 net. Cornell University also hiked four spots up from 2013-14, buoyed by a $70,300 net increase in ROI over 20 years.
However, such jumps were few-and-far between in this year’s rankings, with most of last year’s top performers falling by nearly 10%. Exhibit A is the University of Virginia, where in-state business graduates dropped from $901,500 to $818,000 in 20 year net return. ROI for in-state graduates from Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus actually fell by $117,200. Among private schools, Saint Mary’s College of California, which stood at $799,900 in 2013-14, plunged to $704,200 (and that’s despite 89% of their grads earning grant money).
However, there are some glaring omissions in this PayScale’s ROI Number. Despite ranking seventh in Poets& Quants’ undergraduate rankings, Emory University lacked the number of graduate responses to be ranked by PayScale. The same is true of 12th-ranked Georgetown University. That said, several undergraduate business programs have far higher overall rankings than 20-year earnings, including 15th-ranked University of Texas at Austin ($542,700/47th), 17th-ranked Penn State University ($446,900/99th), 18th-ranked College of William & Mary ($500,000/64th), 1th-ranked University of Wisconsin ($471,600/77th), and 20th-ranked Indiana University ($513,000/60th). However, these rankings could also represent a higher percentage of bachelor’s degree holders earning graduate degrees, which would remove them from PayScale’s undergraduate business sample.
BUSINESS MAJORS EARN ON THE HIGH END
So how do business majors compare to other majors? That depends. Mathematics and computer sciences tended to yield the biggest bang for the buck, topped by Stanford at $1,619,700 in earnings. In fact, graduates from the top 25 schools in this category produced a net ROI no lower than $895,000 (and 10 schools with a 20-year ROI of one million dollars or more). Engineers also tended to make more than business majors, with Rice grads topping the list at $1,168,400 (technically less than Berkeley in-state and Penn grads). However, the ROI for the 10th-ranked engineering program was $913,500, which is $160,000 more than the 10th-ranked business program ($753,000). And the discrepancy grows even larger as you scroll down the list, with the 25th-ranked undergraduate engineering program paying $166,100 more over 20 years than the 25th-ranked business program.
Aside from math and computer sciences, and engineering, business tends to yield a far higher ROI than all other undergraduate majors, according to PayScale. Economics is the only discipline where a school had a 20-year return over a million dollars (Penn at $1,109,000). Overall, those 20-year earnings for economics majors tend to quickly fall off. For example, a graduate from the 25th-ranked business program will earn over $10,000 more per year (over 20 years) than a graduate from the 25th-ranked economics program.
And it’s all downhill from there, with the highest 20-year net returns often being less than half of what business graduates from top programs ultimately earn. This includes science ($619,100), psychology ($563,100), humanities ($463,100), and the arts ($445,700).
CAN ALWAYS HAVE A BUSINESS CAREER WITHOUT A BUSINESS MAJOR
Alas, these rankings ignore an important detail: Many aspiring actors, psychologists, engineers, and biologists end up as marketing managers, sales reps, project leads, and personnel managers. And PayScale has an answer for that as well. As part of its salary survey, PayScale also includes a function, where respondents share the type of work they do. Thus, PayScale can track each school’s undergraduate business placement – and their alumni’s accompanying earnings too.
When it comes to 20-year net ROI, Penn tops the list, with $1,129,400, just $60,000 below its business majors (or $3,000 less per year in earnings). Stanford University, which (like Harvard) doesn’t offer an undergraduate business major, ranks second, with an annualized ROI Of $976,900 . . . just $1,200 more than third-place Cornell University ($975,700), where non-business majors actually enjoy a higher 20-year ROI than actual business majors ($865,700). John Hopkins University ($960,300) and Columbia University ($934,600) round out the top five.
California-Berkeley in-state graduates also bring home an enviable 20-year ROI at $889,600, though this still falls nearly $310,000 short of business majors. Harvard ($842,100) and Emory ($838,400) also make the top 10. However, non-business majors from New York University ($666,100), Northwestern University ($622,100), UCLA (in-state – $588,300), and the University of Maryland (in-state – $549,500) tend to struggle, though (in its defense) Northwestern doesn’t offer an undergraduate business major.
To see the rankings and data for the top 50 Value Colleges for Business Majors and the top 25 Best Value Colleges For Business Careers, go to the next pages.