Although we have written frequently about the inherent value of a college education and the downside of looking at a degree only in terms of the financial rewards to recipients, there is no question that many, if not most, parents and students are extremely concerned about salary prospects after graduation.
The recent Payscale.Com 2012 ROI Rankings are useful in this regard, especially if prospective students are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, or business. There are some caveats about the data: (1) they only include bachelors degree holders and do not include the salaries of alumni who have gone on to graduate or professional school–a significant fact; and (2) they generally favor universities located in the Northeast, the Washington, DC area, or the West Coast, where overall pay is often much higher than it is in other regions.
Partly for these reasons, all but two of the top 13 universities in the Payscale ROI are located in the Northeast or the West Coast. All of these are private institutions, many with strong financial aid to students, a fact that helps to offset high tuition in determining the ROI.
The ROI itself is the amount of career earnings over and above the median earnings of high school graduates. For more information on how Payscale derives net cost and ROI, please see the Payscale methodology.
Based on the methodology, below are the public universities that Payscale ranks in the top 100 (in-state tuition only for purposes of ROI). From the list it is clear that the methodology strongly favors universities with high STEM or business enrollments, that offer specialized programs, such as maritime instruction:
Colorado School of Mines–14
UC San Diego–40
SUNY Maritime Academy–43
William & Mary–61
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo–62
Massachusetts Maritime Academy–63
Missouri Inst. of Science and Technology–73
UC Santa Barbara–96