How to Assess a College’s Value

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As the cost of college climbs higher, more students and parents are approaching the college search with a new focus: Return on Investment (ROI).  Essentially, this is a calculation of the value of a degree from a certain college.  It involves determining the amount of money it will cost a student to attend that college, as well as the job prospects and likely lifetime earnings for a graduate of that college.

ROI varies not only depending on where students go to college, but also how much financial aid they receive, what they major in, and where they live and work after graduating, among other factors.  Therefore, a college’s value is not always easy to assess.

PayScale.com publishes two annual reports that can help: the College ROI Report and the College Salary Report.  PayScale also has ROI rankings by college major.  Although there are certainly flaws in this data, as there are in any ranking system, it’s a good place to start.

Another useful resource is colleges themselves.  To find the relevant information, search on a college’s website for “job placement rate” or “first destination survey” (what many colleges call the survey in which they ask recent grads about what they’re doing after college).  Ideally, this report will include not only the percent of graduates who are working and in graduate school, it will also have data on the top industries in which students are employed, where they are living, what companies they’re working for, and what graduate schools they’re attending.

If you can’t find job placement or first destination information on a school’s website, contact its career services office.  It’s also worthwhile to spend some time researching what this office does to help students prepare for and find jobs.  With the understanding that students and parents are more concerned about ROI and outcomes, many colleges are spending significant amounts of money to beef up their career services, as described in a recent New York Times article.

Even if a school has outstanding career services and an impressive job placement rate, if it’s not the right fit for a student in other ways, he or she is unlikely to be successful there.  That said, considering that college tuition seems likely to continue rising, ROI is one more aspect that students and parents should consider in their college search.