Visualizing the Best ROI College in Every State

The average student loan debt is now $39,400, and yet Americans still like to believe that going to college is an investment in the future. It brings lifelong friendships, challenging coursework and hopefully a good job at the end. But has anyone ever thought to conduct a rigorous ROI analysis, considering the average tuition costs, student debt and earnings potential for graduates?

ROI CollegeWe found the numbers for our map from, which calculated a few different metrics for every major college or university in each state across the country. They took the average total cost of tuition (the red part of our visual), the average student debt (the puple part), the typical length of time to graduation (usually 4 years), and the graduation rate. They then determined the 20-year ROI for going to school by comparing two different populations: people who skip college and start a career right after high school, and people who go to college and wait to start a career. In other words, think about a high school graduate with 24 years of experience compared to a college graduate with only 20. What is the net difference, if any, in pay? That’s the blue part of our visual.

Here is a comprehensive list of the best value schools in every state:

State College 20 Year Net ROI ($) Total 4 Year Cost Average Loan Amount ($)
New York United States Merchant Marine Academy 1,094,000 34,900 20,000
Massachusetts Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1,015,000 249,000 30,200
Maryland United States Naval Academy 1,004,000 0 N/A
California Harvey Mudd College 978,000 272,000 25,500
Colorado Colorado School of Mines 909,000 126,000 26,700
Georgia Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus 856,000 101,000 33,500
New Jersey Stevens Institute of Technology 832,000 250,000 26,700
Michigan Kettering University 766,000 215,000 44,200
Missouri Missouri University of Science and Technology 753,000 87,300 27,000
Indiana Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology 751,000 239,000 45,800
Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania 739,000 262,000 28,600
Maine Maine Maritime Academy 718,000 103,000 70,200
Connecticut United States Coast Guard Academy 714,000 0 N/A
New Hampshire Dartmouth College 707,000 265,000 24,700
New Mexico New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology 692,000 79,100 19,400
Virginia Virginia Military Institute 680,000 111,000 34,400
Texas Rice University 650,000 229,000 29,500
North Carolina Duke University 641,000 262,000 24,700
South Dakota South Dakota School of Mines and Technology 635,000 93,500 29,700
Montana Montana Tech of the University of Montana 634,000 77,400 21,200
Washington, D.C. Georgetown University 619,000 263,000 26,100
Rhode Island Brown University 616,000 257,000 28,700
Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Engineering 611,000 193,000 31,000
Washington University of Washington-Bothell Campus 609,000 109,000 23,300
Utah Brigham Young University-Provo 595,000 71,100 20,000
Illinois University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 585,000 118,000 27,600
Oregon Oregon Institute of Technology 572,000 90,000 25,600
Ohio Case Western Reserve University 568,000 242,000 32,200
Florida Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach 549,000 194,000 48,400
Arizona Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott 529,000 192,000 51,100
Alaska University of Alaska Fairbanks 527,000 70,500 24,300
Alabama University of Alabama in Huntsville 518,000 96,200 25,000
Tennessee Vanderbilt University 496,000 252,000 31,600
West Virginia West Virginia University Institute of Technology 493,000 74,700 25,000
Delaware University of Delaware 488,000 106,000 35,700
Idaho Brigham Young University-Idaho 468,000 48,200 17,700
South Carolina Clemson University 461,000 114,000 33,300
Minnesota University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 449,000 104,000 30,600
Kansas Ottawa University-Ottawa 438,000 156,000 33,100
Iowa Iowa State University 435,000 77,200 27,600
Oklahoma University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus 424,000 99,900 31,300
Louisiana Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College 422,000 102,000 26,900
North Dakota North Dakota State University-Main Campus 413,000 80,400 35,700
Arkansas University of Arkansas 374,000 93,100 28,700
Nebraska Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health 363,000 111,000 32,500
Nevada University of Nevada-Reno 363,000 91,500 24,400
Kentucky Thomas More College 362,000 157,000 28,900
Wyoming University of Wyoming 360,000 75,600 28,000
Vermont Middlebury College 358,000 250,000 25,400
Mississippi Mississippi State University 293,000 90,800 26,900
Hawaii Brigham Young University-Hawaii 263,000 66,200


There are several high-level trends in our visualization. First off, no matter where you live, it clearly pays to go to college. Every single state has a large blue bar in it. The worst ROI for getting a degree is in Hawaii, but even their graduates will have earned $263,000 more than their less-educated counterparts after 20 years of working. The average ROI for all 50 schools (plus Washington DC) is an eye-popping $595,000, and the average loan amount is just under $29,000. That means that, on average, going to a high-value school gives you roughly 20x return on your money. Try getting that in the stock market.

Our map also lays out a nice visual of value schools across the U.S. The best value can be found in the Northeast, which is represented by the large blue bars in several states. There are several schools with $700k+ returns. Things look relatively modest in the South, with no state topping $700k. California meanwhile anchors the West Coast with the best value in the region, where Harvey Mudd College generates just shy of $1M in ROI for graduates.

Taking a closer look at the visualization reveals another interesting trend. Some of the schools are very well known, like MIT in Massachusetts and many of the state schools across the Midwest. But if you’re honest, how many of the top ten have you previously heard of? Clearly there are several schools with the word “technology” in the name, indicating that getting a science, engineering or IT degree carries some serious ROI. Many of these schools might not be well known in pop culture, but we bet hiring managers compete for the attention of these graduates.

But what if you are nervous about taking out student loans to finance your college career? After all, a lot of people start college but don’t finish. That can lead to the worst of both worlds: student debt but no degree (or higher earning potential) to show for it. The graduation rates are relatively high for all these schools, topping 80 and even 90+%. But if you still want to hedge your bets, consider joining the armed services through the Naval Academy ($0 in debt at graduation, but an ROI of $1,004,000). And if joining the military doesn’t appeal to you, consider instead a low-cost, low-debt school on our list, like BUY-Idaho. Graduates typically only have $17,700 in average debt, which comes out to only about $200/month in repayments over 10 years. If that still seems like a lot, remember, you’re going to make $468,000 more over the next two decades!

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