College rankings are always controversial. From U.S. News & World Report to the Princeton Review to Forbes, there seems to be no objective methodology that generates unanimous results. If it’s pure financial worth you’re looking for, PayScale just released its annual ROI report.
UC Berkeley’s ranking for estimated financial returns on a college degree for in-state students rose from No. 34 to No. 22 this year. The average starting salary for graduates of UC Berkeley is reportedly $54,700. Harvey Mudd College, a liberal arts college of science, math and engineering, ranked No. 1.
Interestingly, public schools and lesser-known schools beat out more prestigious colleges. The Colorado School of Mines and Georgia Institute of Technology placed in the top 10, while Harvard University and Yale University ranked 23rd and 48th, respectively.
The returns for out-of-state students attending UC Berkeley is much lower, dropping from 52nd to 53rd this year.
PayScale ranks colleges based on the 20-year net earnings of their graduates. The research firm uses data from more than 900 universities and colleges to generate its annual reports. The 20-year net return rate is calculated as the total income a graduate will earn after graduation in 20 years of working, minus both what they would have earned as a high school graduate and the cost of college (tuition, room and board, books and supplies). A filter can be selected to view the net returns minus the average financial aid amount awarded to students.
According to the Economist, college graduates aged 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers who only have high-school diplomas. But it is important to remember that not all degrees are equally lucrative. An engineering graduate from UC Berkeley is nearly guaranteed to be $1.1 million better off after 20 years than someone who never went to college. The earnings of arts and humanities majors are much more varied.