Crunching the Numbers

Several 100-dollar bills and the words, "Crunching the Numbers"

Crunching the Numbers

With the cost of a college education going up, and the market for jobs uncertain, there’s been an increased tendency in recent years to talk about higher education in terms of “Return on Investment.”

Graphic:  Georgia Tech’s ROI In-State (w/o Financial Aid) Cost*: $86,700 20-Year Net ROI**: $796,300 (No. 8 in the nation) Annual ROI: 12.5% (No. 1 in the nation)  In-State (w/ Financial Aid) Cost: $37,350 20-Year Net ROI: $835,300 (No. 11) Annual ROI: 15.9% (No. 2)  Out-of-State (w/o Financial Aid) Cost: $161,700 20-Year Net ROI: $721,300 (No. 17)  Annual ROI: 9% (No. 88)  Out-of-State (w/ Financial Aid) Cost: $161,700 20-Year Net ROI: $760,200 (No. 26) Annual ROI: 10.5% (No. 204)   *From 2015 PayScale College ROI report based on on-campus residence. **Total earnings over 20 years after subtracting what the student would have earned as a high school graduate put the cost of college.

Students and their families want to know that the money they spend – or pay back later with interest – will be worth it in the long run, and they look to a number of sources for guidance. puts out an annual College ROI Report, and the Chronicle of Higher Education has created

Even the government is in on the act: The U.S. Department of Education launched an Interactive College Scorecard in response to President Obama’s call for a guide that tells students “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

These and other sources take various approaches to calculating and comparing the ROI of colleges, looking at considerations such as:

  • Cost
  • Graduation rates
  • Typical years to completion
  • Average amount borrowed
  • Earnings potential, and more.

Results can often be filtered by public or private schools, region, type of school, degree programs, in-state or out-of-state tuition rates, on- or off-campus living, and aggregate costs with or without financial aid.

To determine the ultimate dollars and cents value of a college education, even factors in the income high school graduates might forfeit during their college years.

On the other hand, their methodology looks only at the hourly or salaried income of bachelor’s degree recipients, not at the earnings of students who go on to earn advanced degrees or become entrepreneurs.

Of course, a college education has intrinsic worth that individuals and society can’t put a price on – few would dispute that.

And while Georgia Tech boasts a top-ranked ROI by almost any measure [see graphic], return on investment is just one factor students should consider in deciding where to apply, says Rick Clark, Georgia Tech’s director of Undergraduate Admission.

“Tech is recruiting students who we feel are capable of and committed to improving the human condition through science and technology – even in our business and liberal arts programs,” he says. “That may translate into an impressive salary after graduation, but our focus is on helping students create lives filled with meaning and promise – that’s why we want them to choose Georgia Tech.”

Updated: December 2015
Writer: Margaret Tate
Graphics: Ekaterina Kouznetsova