Colleges with biggest bang for the buck

Tuition and student debt levels are soaring. So which schools provide the best return on your investment? These five topped Payscale's list.

1. Harvey Mudd College
harvey mudd college college return investment gallery
30-year return on investment: $2,217,000
Avg. total college cost: $221,700
Avg. annual scholarships and grants: $25,117
Graduation rate: 84%

People with a bachelor's degree from Harvey Mudd College typically earn millions more in their lifetime than high school graduates, according to a report by PayScale, a website that tracks pay data.

The average high school graduate earns around $1.2 million in 34 to 36 years of work, Payscale found. Harvey Mudd grads can expect to earn $2.2 million more than that in the 30 years after graduation -- even after the average cost of attendance and lost years of income during college are taken into account. That means the school offers the best return on investment of the more than 1,000 colleges and universities Payscale looked at.

A private college in Claremont, Calif., Harvey Mudd is especially popular with engineering majors, who tend to score well-paying jobs right out of school, said Katie Bardaro, lead economist at PayScale. Its liberal arts curriculum also is well-regarded, she said.

"Critical thinking is a top skill for graduates there, which makes them successful in all fields, not just engineering," Bardaro said.


Source: PayScale
PayScale economists calculated the total median pay for a school's undergraduate alumnus over a 30-year career and compared it to that of a high school graduate who worked for 34 to 36 years. They then subtracted the college's average cost of attending -- including tuition, room and board, books and supplies -- and took scholarships and grants into account. From that, they determined the school's return on investment (in 2013 dollars). Alumni who went onto graduate school or other higher education were excluded from the calculations.
  @melhicken - Last updated May 02 2013 06:18 AM ET
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