There’s no way around it. For most families, an undergraduate college education is one of the most important and costly investments they will ever make. In the United States, federal and private student loans are now estimated at $1.6 trillion. In 2018, the average college student graduated with $29,200 in debt.
The cause is clear. College tuition and fees — at both public and private institutions — have skyrocketed while wages have increased at a more meager rate. Among the more than 90 business schools P&Q ranked this year in the Best Undergraduate Business Schools ranking, nearly half (45) had total four-year costs greater than $200,000. Only eight schools totaled less than $100,000, and one — Bucknell University — topped $300,000 in total costs, including tuition, fees, and estimated additional costs like food, living expenses, travel, and study materials.
Each year, after P&Q publishes our rankings and data on total costs of the ranked schools, we calculate return-on-investment at the top B-schools. There are many ways to measure the ROI of a college degree, but we prefer to keep it simple. We simply take the most recent average salary data for jobs immediately after graduation at each school, multiply it by five to simulate five years of work, and then subtract the total estimated four-year cost of the degree from that sum. For example, if 2019 graduates at a school make an average of $50,000 in their first jobs after graduation, the five-year total is $250,000. If the total four-year cost of attending that school is $100,000, the five-year ROI is $150,000.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY AT THE TOP OF THE LIST
Using this calculation, no other business school has a better ROI this year than the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Ross business majors graduating in 2019 reported an average starting salary of $75,575, which equates to a total of $377,875 over five years. The school reported in-state students will pay a total of $127,524 over four years. That makes the five-year ROI at Michigan Ross $250,351.
Close behind Michigan Ross is the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, which has a five-year total ROI of $248,423. Last year, Virginia McIntire had the best five-year ROI of all schools at $241,742; Ross followed with $237,474. In third place again this year is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, which now has a five-year ROI of $241,219.
Large public schools dominated the top of the list once again this year. Within the top 15 for five-year ROI, only one school — Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business — is not a public school. The schools in the top 15 are also dispersed across all regions of the country — though the Midwest is perhaps most represented, with schools like Michigan and the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois representing the middle of the country. Binghamton University and Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick, New Jersey offer northeastern options. The University of California-Berkeley and University of Washington represent the West Coast, while the South and Southeast are covered by schools like the University of Texas-Austin, North Carolina, Virginia, William & Mary, and Georgia Tech.
At the other end, there are many schools where the starting average salary is not much compared to the cost of attending. At Hult International Business School, for example, 2019 graduates reported earning $39,369 in their first jobs while the total four-year cost of attending is $298,800, putting the five-year ROI at -$101,955. The University of Denver Daniel’s College of Business followed with -$17,641. Out of the 96 schools included in the ROI ranking, four had negative numbers after five years. The other two were Boston University’s Questrom School of Business (-$2,969) and Ithaca College’s School of Business (-$730).
All 15 of the schools at the bottom of the five-year ROI list were private schools. And similar to the top of the list, they come from basically all geographical parts of the country.