The Best ROI For Undergrad Business Programs

University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce

University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce

A Lower Bill in Charlottesville

If you live in Virginia, you won’t find a better bargain that a bachelors degree in business from the state’s flagship university. With the highest return on investment at 19.8 percent, the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce offers a modest cost ($25,880 with financial aid) for a high return ($901,500 net over 20 years). Even if you live outside Virginia, the school is a good deal. While the cost of a bachelors degree is nearly a $100,000 higher for an out-of-stater, the return is $804,200, the eighth highest 20-year ROI on PayScale’s list.

That said, cost of living can impact ROI, which isn’t factored into PayScale’s equation. In fact, many of the schools with the highest ROIs are located in or near large metropolitan areas, including San Francisco (Berkeley, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara), Los Angeles (USC, UCLA, California-Irvine, Pepperdine), Boston (Babson College, Boston College), Philadelphia (Lehigh, Villanova), New York City (New York University, Rutgers), and Washington D.C. (University of Mary Washington and Notre Dame-Maryland).

PayScale also doesn’t accommodate earnings lost when men and women leave the workplace to raise children. As noted earlier, PayScale removed advanced degree holders. As a result, undergraduate programs that feed MBA programs are actually penalized for excellence.

Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management

Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management

Midwest Salaries Tank

Looking for some surprises? Start with Northwestern University, where it costs $112,100 to earn a business degree (with financial aid). However, this bachelors degree only yields a net return of $556,900 over two decades. In fact, the business degrees at top Midwestern schools fared poorly on PayScale’s rubric. For example, the University of Michigan, a top 10 MBA program, ranks #43 here, with a net ROI of $593,000. And this is stellar performance compared to other in-state segments such as the University of Indiana ($592,500), the University of Minnesota ($582,800), and the University of Wisconsin ($506,900). The worst news comes from Columbus, Ohio, where in-state bachelor degree holders from Ohio State produced a net ROI of only $415,100, a 10% return that ranked the school 209th overall.

PayScale Leaves Out Some Top Schools

What’s more, not every undergraduate business program is represented in the latest College ROI Report. For example, the list leaves out luminaries like Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Notre Dame, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Why? For starters, neither Harvard nor Stanford offers an undergraduate business major. Notre Dame’s exclusion is puzzling, as PayScale reports that it possesses 37 salaries, ranging from $45,311 to $126,695, for Notre Dame alumni with Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degrees. Conversely, PayScale only holds 12 salaries for a bachelors degree in finance at Penn (with salaries ranging from $45,958 to $182,224). In other words, the business degree samples at Notre Dame and Wharton were likely too small to report.

University of North Carolina

University of North Carolina

Financial Aid and Housing Makes a Difference

Financial aid also shaped ROI to an extent. For example, removing financial aid from the PayScale’s equation resulted in the University of Virginia climbing to #3 in the rankings. However, costs also rose from $25,880 to $94,300 (and annual ROI dropping from 19.8 to 12.3 percent). The same phenomenon occurred at undergraduate business programs like Rutgers University, the University of Mary Washington, and the University of North Carolina. In addition, schools like James Madison University, the University of Illinois (Champaign), Brigham Young University, and the University of Washington jumped into the top 25 when a financial aid package was excluded from the formula.

The change is even more pronounced when students moved from on campus to off campus housing (with financial aid included). While the University of California-Berkeley still retained the top two spots, Boston College snagged the #3 spot, with school costs plummeting from $96,550 to $80,590 (when students lived off campus). In fact, housing nearly re-arranged the entire top 10, with students from the College of Notre Dame-Maryland ($87,150 to $73,950) and UCLA ($55,480 to $44,660) benefitting the most from moving off campus.

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