Schools With The Best ROI For Business Majors

The business degree remains the most popular degree in the country. According to new new data from the National Center for Education Statistics, business degrees account for nearly 20% of all degrees awarded. One of the main reasons is the practicality of the degree. It’s a fast track to securing a solid job. Graduates from many top business programs can expect to make more than $60,000 in their first jobs after graduating.

But college is increasingly expensive and when it comes to return on investment, one school does it better than the rest, according to data published in April. Each April, Payscale, a leading data firm that specializes in employee compensation, produces a list of schools with the best return on investment over 20 years based on degrees. And for the past five years, in-state students at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business have enjoyed the best ROI with $1,194,000. The school is so dominant in the Payscale calculations that out-of-state business majors have the second best 20-year ROI at $1,097,000.

Payscale calculates its ROI by taking the difference between 20-year median self-reported salary data from graduates with a bachelor degree and 24-year median pay for a high school graduate minus the four-year cost of a degree. In-state business majors at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce had the third-best ROI at $947,000. The United States Military Academy had the next highest ROI at $919,000. And business grads at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School rounded out the top five with a 20-year ROI of $887,000.

The UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business. Courtesy photo

Overall, private schools performed very well on Payscale’s list. Despite having total costs at greater than $260,000, schools like Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania both finished in the top ten for ROI. The reason? Employers really value graduates from those two schools. According to data gathered by P&Q, 2017 graduates from Wharton had an average starting salary of $80,566 — higher than any other school. Georgetown graduates had the fourth-highest average salary at $74,050.

A high ranking doesn’t equate to a solid ROI or vice versa for Payscale’s ROI calculations. For instance, in-state graduates from Binghamton University’s School of Management had the seventh-highest ROI — ahead of Wharton — at $846,000. Likewise, Yeshiva University’s Syms School of Business placed tenth with an ROI of $832,000. On the other hand, top-ranked schools like the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the University of Texas McCombs School of Business finished 47th and 50th, respectively, even with total costs of attending around $110,000. The Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School faired even worse with an ROI of $575,000, good enough for 92nd place. And even with a total cost of less than $100,000 for in-state students, Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business finished 95th with an ROI of $568,000.


As with any ranking or data collection of this sort, it should be taken with a grain of salt. The data was collected between 2007 and 2018 and included 1.4 million college educated workers that completed Payscale’s Employee Survey. Only graduates with a bachelor’s degree were included, meaning if a graduate went on to earn a graduate degree of any sort, they were excluded from the study. For old data, the salaries were inflated using the consumer price index. One issue is many schools graduate students straight into a master’s in accounting program in a four plus one model. Another is 20 years is a long time to forecast out earning potential. Many things can happen throughout a career including advanced degrees, promotions, or economic recessions.

Late last year, we did a similar study that took average salary of 2017 graduates, multiplied it by five, and subtracted the total cost for 2017 graduates with and without scholarships. At five years out, graduates from James Madison University’s School of Business had the best ROI at $245,433 with average scholarships awarded included. On Payscale’s 20-year ROI ranking, James Madison is 52nd. UC-Berkeley follows on our list with a five-year ROI of $239,554. Michigan Ross is next with $239,188.

Across majors, the business major holds its own. Only computer science and math majors and economics majors have higher ROIs. Computer science majors at Stanford University, for example, have the highest ROI of all degrees at $1,452,000. Up next, computer science majors with in-state residents at UC-Berkeley have a 20-year ROI of $1,361,000. Similar to business majors, out-of-state computer science majors follow with an ROI of $1,264,000. Those top three spots point to the value Silicon Valley is currently putting on computer science skill sets, considering Stanford and UC-Berkeley’s proximity to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. Overall, computer science majors from six different universities had higher ROIs than the highest ROI for business majors. The only other major to have an higher ROI than Berkeley’s top business major ROI is an economics major from Harvard, which has an ROI of $1,330,000.

(See the next page for the top 50 schools for ROI for business majors.)

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