30 Affordable Colleges with the Highest ROI


Let’s face it: college education is not cheap. To secure reputable qualifications, you need to enroll in programs which may be hard on your wallet. Nevertheless, college degrees give you an undeniable edge in the job market, and so, despite their cost, are still pursued and sought after.

There are many respectable colleges out there that have affordable tuition rates and rank well. Couple this with the fact that they boast high rates of return on investment and you have some pretty desirable schooling options before you.

How much your investment pays off, however, depends on how smart the investment was in the first place. Finding affordable schools with quality education programs that translate to real career potential is the critical first step.

What is ROI?
30 Affordable Colleges with the Highest ROI

What is ROI?

In simple English, a return on investment (ROI) is the benefit an investor incurs as a result of investing a resource of theirs. It is a measure of the profitability of a particular venture.

In terms of a college education, students invest their time and money in the hopes of securing well-paying jobs upon graduation.  So the ROI in this case is your investment into college versus how much you’ll be earning in the future.

There are no standard ROI figures: rather, each case will vary depending upon the particular student. When trying to determine which college to attend, it is important to compare and contrast the different ROI figures which will apply to you for each school.

How to Calculate a College’s ROI

There are a number of different factors which must be taken into account when determining the ROI for each prospective college. It is important to remember that we are not only concerned with the tuition costs of a particular university; we are looking at the total costs.

Here is what goes into calculating that figure:

  • Tuition fees
  • Living expenses
  • The cost of textbooks and other school related supplies
  • Lodging and its related expenses (are you planning to live on campus in dorms? Off-campus? Are you considering signing up for a meal-plan?)
  • All additional fees – insurance, laboratory and technology fees, library and assessment fees, etc.
  • Debt – how much debt will you have incurred upon graduation?
The Return

After you have an idea of how much you will be investing in college, it’s time to look at what you are expecting to earn. Determining ROI figures and making educated guesses about your future earning potential is very important. This allows you to make smart choices about which colleges are within your budget and which degrees will prove worthwhile for you in the long run.

Make use of resources and data from sites such as The US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here, you will find annual median wages for most professions. This can give you an idea of how much you can expect to be making and accordingly, how soon you can expect to benefit from your investment in a college degree.

The 30 Colleges:

Listed below are thirty colleges with excellent ratings and quality programs in many different disciplines. These colleges have ranked highly on ‘colleges that pay off’ lists. It is important to note this list is no particular order.

State University of New York at New Paltz

The State University of New York, also known as SUNY New Patz, has been lauded as one of the most artistically inclined and diverse universities in the country. This public university has a student body of over 8,000 and offers a wide and unique range of undergraduate and graduate programs. Its admissions process is highly selective and competitive.

The school is also environmentally conscious and considered a green school with its environmentally friendly buildings, as well as its increased recycling efforts.

The Princeton Review has also ranked SUNY New Paltz as one of the nation’s “Best Value” colleges.

University of Virginia-Main Campus

The University of Virginia is a public research university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The school offers a wide range of degrees such as psychology, law, engineering, social sciences, etc. The US News and World Report ranked the university at number 2 out of all public universities in the US.

Texas A&M University-College Station

Texas A&M is a public research university and the fourth-largest university in the United States. The school has a student body of over 50,000 and offers more than 120 undergraduate programs and 240 graduate programs. The main campus is one of the largest in the country spanning an area of over 5,200 acres. On the premises, students can find the George Bush Presidential Library and can join any number of over 800 student organizations. The school offers challenging programs that are research intensive and students are given the opportunity to further develop and acquire new skills through a variety of internships and study abroad programs.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Virginia Tech is a public university and is regarded as one of the leading research institutions in the country. The school offers over 225 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and has a student body of around 31,000. Virginia Tech has always strived to take a hands-on approach to learning and offers an engaging approach to education to help students become leaders in their respective fields. The university manages a research portfolio of $496 million and makes good use of its land-grant mission by using knowledge gained through study into practice. In February, The Princeton Review put Virginia Tech on its 2015 ‘List of Colleges That Pay You Back’ list.

College of William and Mary

The College of William and Mary is a public research university located in Virginia. It is considered one of the first ‘Public Ivies’, a term coined by Richard Molly in reference to those public universities who offer a comparable quality of education as private Ivy League institutes. Founded in 1693, it is the second oldest higher education institute in the country after Harvard. In 2014, Kiplinger ranked the school 4th out of the 100 best-value public colleges and universities in the nation.

California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

Also known as ‘Cal Pol, San Luis Obispo’ this university has been at the top of US News and World Report’s best public master’s-level university list for two decades. Cal Pol is known for its ‘Learn by Doing’ approach when it comes to education. Through this approach, they encourage their students to solve actual problems through a combination of what they have learned in the classroom and experiential laboratory skills. Admissions for Cal Pol are highly selective and students must declare their intended major at the time of application. According to Pay Scale’s 2014 “College ROI Report” Cal Pol ranked 33rd out of over 1,300 universities and colleges.

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

The Massachusetts Maritime Academy offers a host of degrees that are all dedicated to maritime-related fields. The school boasts a unique regimented lifestyle and requires students to become members of their cadet corps. This involves a sea term in which students are required to carry out a variety of tasks on the USTS Kennedy.

University of Maryland-College Park

The University of Maryland is considered among the list of ‘Public Ivy’ institutions. The school is situated between Washington D.C. and Baltimore and so it offers its students the unique chance to get a suburban experience with easy access to the big city life. It’s proximity to the capital has also resulted in strong partnerships between the university and the Federal government. It has a student body of over 37,000 and offers students 100 undergraduate majors and 120 graduate programs. The school also offers its students internship opportunities at the White House, the Smithsonian, and NASA.

Georgia Institute of Technology – The Main Campus

Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the largest technological research universities in the world. This leading public research university is part of the University System of Georgia and has a number of satellite campuses around the world. It consistently produces a number of successful engineers every year, including a large number of females (who are considered a minority in the field).

With a student body of over 20,000, the undergraduate and graduate programs at Georgia Tech are divided into 6 colleges:

  • The College of Architecture
  • The College of Computing
  • The College of Engineering
  • The College of Sciences
  • Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts
  • Scheller College of Business
Missouri University of Science and Technology

Also referred to as Missouri S&T, the university is primarily known as an engineering school. Despite that, they still offer majors in the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, and business. In 2014, USA Today ranked Missouri S&T third in top engineering schools in the country, emphasizing the overall quality of the college and return on investment. S&T is one of the nation’s leading technological institutes and offers more than 65 degree programs.

The College of New Jersey

The College of New Jersey or TCNJ has been frequently recognized as a leading academic institute. The school is notably recognized for its highly ranking programs in business, engineering, education, science, humanities, and nursing. According to the Princeton Review, TCNJ has been recognized for ‘having a world-class library, an excellent quality of life and a highly selective medical program; ranking it one of the country’s best institute for undergraduate education’.

Brigham Young University–Provo

Also referred to as BYU or ‘The Y’, this university is a private research institute based in Provo, Utah. The school is funded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) and so; much of the student life at the university is centered on religion. BYU ranks #19 on the U.S. News and World Report’s “Great Schools, Great Prices” list as well as #12 in lowest student-incurred debt. The Y offers over 193 undergraduate programs with an additional 62 masters and 26 doctoral degrees.

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University is located on the North Shore of Long Island in New York State. It is a public sea-grant and space-grant research university which is part of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The university has also been ranked among the top 1% of universities worldwide by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. With a student body of over 24,500, SBU offers more than 200 majors, minors and combined-degree programs. The school is a great choice for research opportunities as well as your future.

University of Colorado, Boulder

CU-Boulder is a public research university which is divided into a number of different colleges and schools. The university as a whole currently offers over 3,400 courses in over 150 disciplines. These span many different majors including everything from accounting to law.

Purdue University-Main Campus

As the main campus of the Purdue University System, it is located in West Lafayette, Indiana. The main campus offers more than 200 major options for undergraduates, as well as over 70 graduate and doctoral programs. Of these, the university is particularly known for the excellence of its business administration, engineering, and agriculture programs. These are frequently ranked among the best in the country.

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

NC State is a public research university with a student body of over 34,000. The university offers 106 undergraduate degrees, 104 graduate degrees and 61 doctoral degrees. Historically, NC State has had very strong programs in engineering, life sciences, and agriculture.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst is ranked among the top 30 public universities in the country. The university offers students over 90 undergraduate majors and 72 graduate majors. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has classified UMass as a Research University with very high research activity.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

UW Madison is a highly selective public research university. The school offers undergraduate and graduate divisions in areas which include business, engineering, agriculture, life sciences, human ecology, education, mass communication, journalism, social welfare, nursing, letters and science, music, and pharmacy. The university also has graduate and professional schools in a number of different disciplines. UW Madison is one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities and receives grants for research.

University of Connecticut

UConn is considered a ‘Public Ivy’ and offers students the opportunity to pursue a wide range of programs. These include more than a 100 majors, eight separate undergraduate degrees, 17 graduate degree programs and five professional degree programs. Students can also choose to take one of 87 minors that the school offers. In U.S News and World Report’s 2015 Report on America’s Best Colleges, UConn ranked among the top 20 public research universities in the country.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide

Embry-Riddle is regarded as the world’s largest, fully accredited university which specializes in aerospace and aviation. In 1979, Time magazine referred to the university as the ‘Harvard of the Sky’. This private university has over 150 learning locations around the world, including on military bases. To further increase accessibility, the university has an “online campus” which students from all over the world can apply to. Embry-Riddle offers degrees at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels as well as certificates in disciplines such as aviation, aerospace engineering, business, and science.

The University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin, also known as UT Austin, is a public research university and is considered one of the ‘Public Ivies’. The school is a member of the American Association of Universities and is a major center for academic research. UT Austin offers more than 100 undergraduate programs as well as 170 graduate programs.  The admissions process at the school is highly selective. In 2011, SmartMoney published a “payback” analysis which compared graduates’ salaries to tuition costs; they concluded that UT Austin had the second-best value of all colleges in the country, right behind Georgia Tech.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech is a leading research university that offers degrees in over 150 disciplines through 13 colleges. The university also hosts 60 research centers and institutes and is known for its prominent research projects in the areas which include epidemiology, pulsed power, grid computing, atmospheric sciences, and wind energy.

California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Cal Poly Pomona is one of two public polytechnic universities located in California. Cal Poly is known for its academic excellence and follows a ‘learning by doing’ philosophy. Part of this philosophy is the belief that education takes place both within and beyond the classroom; students are frequently given real world problems to solve with the knowledge they have acquired as well as hand-on, practical skills. This makes them more ‘career-ready’. Cal Poly currently has over 94 different undergraduate degrees, 39 graduate degrees, 13 teaching credentials, and one doctorate program.

George Mason University

George Mason University, or Mason, is located in Fairfax, Virginia. The university has highly ranked and well-recognized programs in economics, creative writing, law, business, and computer science. Currently, Mason offers 81 undergraduate majors, 88 master’s majors, as well as a law degree. The university highly prides itself on its innovative, entrepreneurial ventures and stands by its slogan ‘George Mason University—Where Innovation Is Tradition’.

Auburn University

Auburn University is one of the few institutes to hold a land, sea, and space grant. As one of the largest schools in the South, Auburn has a student body of over 20,000 and offers over 140 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees in a wide range of disciplines.

University of Washington – Seattle Campus

The University of Washington is considered one of the ‘Public Ivies’ and is one of the oldest institute on the West Coast. Students can choose from a variety of degree programs in engineering, medicine, environment, nursing, education, public affairs, etc. The school has a student body of over 54,000, and has a very selective admissions process. Students who choose to go to UW will benefit from a diverse student body, challenging curriculums, and extensive research opportunities.

SUNY at Binghamton

Located in the state of New York, this university is often referred to locally as simply BU. The school is well renowned in many regards:  it is considered a ‘Public Ivy’, it is famous for providing quality education at a fair price, and has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 best-value public colleges. BU offers over 80 undergraduate programs as well as 30 graduate majors. They pride themselves on taking an interdisciplinary approach when it comes to education and giving students an international outlook.

James Madison University

JMU is uniquely situated in the Shenandoah Valley and offers students the unique opportunity to study, live and work in a pristine environment. The university offers 115 degree programs at undergraduate, graduate, educational specialist and doctoral levels. These programs can be taken in areas such as intelligence analysis, quantitative finance, justice studies, education, and communications. JMU also frequently ranks highly among the top public universities in the country.

University of Delaware

The University of Delaware is considered a ‘Public Ivy’ with very high research activity according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The university has programs which have been highly ranked in public administration, history, engineering, business, public policy, biochemistry, agriculture, and hospitality management. It is also one of only four schools in North America with a major in art conservation.
class=”heading_h3″University of Florida

Considered a ‘Public Ivy’ and an elected member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), University of Florida has sixteen academic colleges and over 150 research centers and institutes. The university offers many different graduate professional programs, some of which include business administration, law, dentistry, medicine, engineering,and veterinary medicine. UF also has an extensive and accredited distance learning program which offers degrees in a variety of different disciplines at different degree levels.

When considering which major to pursue and what college or university to attend, one of the most important considerations is the ROI figure of a program at a specific university. Each university will have different figures when it comes down to total cost. Prospective students should always carefully assess what the potential payoff to their investment will be. This helps in making smarter choices when it comes to choosing a major and university to apply to.