Calculating the College ROI: Is College Really Worth the Cost?

Calculating the College ROI - Is college worth the cost?

Is college worth the cost? Do you choose based on rankings or ROI?

“Pick the right classes for college!”

“Get good grades so you can get into a good college!”

“Go to college!”

It’s been the mantra for so long, now might be a good time to take a step back and remember why. Why do parents and students focus (obsess?) on College-with-a-capital-C? Is college worth the cost, in money and in worry?

Well, it’s a big deal, no doubt about that. But what’s the end game, here? Broadly based liberal and scientific education? Life experience? Getting a good job? *ding ding ding* We have a winner!

Of course students and parents envision academic growth and learning life skills at college, all while having an opportunity to experience a much more diverse environment than high school. It’s no surprise, however, that for most a main goal of that coveted education is the ability to move into a career  that will serve you for the next decades, ideally one that can support your own personal lifestyle goals.

So how can you pick a good school? Reams have been written on the topic.

  • One measure is rankings. What school is the “best” (depending on the various ranking methodologies)? The answer, of course, depends on your own criteria. If you’re a budding engineer, the top-ranked art school in the nation is not likely to be your best choice.
  • Another consideration is fit. We talk good fit all of the time in the higher education blogosphere, and it is for good reason. No one is going to excel academically while completely unhappy with location and living circumstances.
  • For most, an important consideration is money. How much do your schools of choice cost? Is one particular college’s program worth thousands in debt, when the same major is available elsewhere for less? Maybe. Maybe not.

The 2016 Payscale College ROI Report offers some insight into real-world value for the colleges listed. Take a look and see how your choices stack up.

A word of caution, though: Keep in mind that the happiest and most successful people find a way to make a living doing what they love, so don’t just go for numbers, or pick a major and/or college based entirely on salary potential. Educate yourself on education, and then make your own informed choice. In the end, getting a good solid education that helps you learn how to learn will serve you well, whatever your career.


We explored this subject in a previous #CampusChat, co-hosted by Lydia Frank, director of editorial and marketing for Payscale.com. You can view the takeaway tweets here.

Who to follow:  @Lydia_West (Lydia Frank), @Payscale, and @collegevisit.