The Best ROI For Undergrad Business Programs


University of California-Berkeley

Comparison to Other Majors

So how do business majors compare to students from other disciplines? Quite favorably, actually. At $1,105,000, the University of California-Berkeley has the highest 20-year ROI. That is lower than the top earners who hold a bachelors degree in Computer Science (Stanford / $1,718,000), Economics (Stanford / $1,302,000), and Engineering ($1,134,000). However, a top end bachelors degree in business exceeds all other ROI in the following fields: Arts (Columbia University / $477,700), Education (Montclair State University / $189,100), Humanities and English (George Mason University / $576,700), Life Sciences ($737,700), Math and Physical Sciences (University of Washington / $609,800), Nursing (Prairie View A&M University / $745,600), Political Science (Texas A&M University / $598,000), and Social Work and Criminal Justice (Arizona State University / $380,200).

Overall, the school with the highest ROI among graduates with only a bachelors degree was the Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, where students average a net return of $1,094,000 over 20 years. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ranks second at $973,800, followed by the California Institute of Technology ($968,500), Stanford University ($950,800), and the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey ($838,500).

Some Divergence From Bloomberg Businessweek Rankings

Not surprisingly PayScale’s rankings align, to an extent, with Bloomberg Businessweek’s rankings of the top undergraduate business programs. There, Notre Dame University has held the top spot for five years running, followed by the University of Virginia, Cornell University, Boston College and Washington University.

Washington University

Washington University

With PayScale, the University of Virginia, Cornell, and Boston College also rank in the top 10 for ROI. The big surprise, however, starts with #5 Washington University. The St. Louis school comes in at #99 on the PayScale rankings, with bachelors degree-holders producing $506,300 in net earnings.  Similarly, the University of Texas at Austin, ranked #6 by Bloomberg Businessweek, falls to #83 overall according to PayScale. The Longhorns’ in-state business graduates rake in a $529,100 net return over 20 years. Conversely, the University of California-Berkeley, which holds the top two spots (in-state and out-of-state) on the PayScale ROI rankings, only manages a #15 ranking with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Why? Well, it comes down to what’s being measured. In Bloomberg Businessweek’s system, compensation (median starting salary, actually) accounts for only 10 percent of a school’s ranking, with variables like student and employer assessment scores, academic quality metrics, and feeder school scores covering the rest. As a result, career compensation doesn’t even figure into the undergraduate rankings.

And that’s fine. This Payscale rankings measure something very precise: Compensation for business majors who don’t pursue an advanced degree. For many, the value of building their careers and businesses (and time spent with loved ones and outside interests) far outweigh the ROI of an MBA or JD.


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