50-50 Highlights: 28 Colleges with the Best ROI That You Can Actually Get Into

50-05 Colleges in Money's Best CollegesMoney’s Best Colleges is one of the increasing alternatives to US News Best College Rankings. According to Washington Post, “Money Magazine’s new college rankings finally get it right for students” since it focuses on the cost to the student and likely return on investment. I’m not willing to declare Money’s College Rankings as the way rankings should be done, but I will acknowledge that it’s a step in the right direction.

I think the biggest problem with the Money’s Best Colleges is the Outcomes portion of the methodology. Outcomes accounts for one-third of the weighting and 75% of that is based on earnings in one form or another. According to the methodology, they use earnings information from PayScale.com and that’s a problem.

If you want to see what the problem is, visit PayScale.com and click on their College ROI Report. Then select Liberal Arts Colleges from the States & Categories option. Next, start clicking on the colleges to see how many salaries are listed in the database. For Harvey Mudd, it lists 11 Median Salaries by Job. Lafayette has 12 and Wabash has 4. This is good enough information to determine graduates earnings, adjust the earning by majors, and determine value-added earnings?

As you start browsing through the data, you can’t help but get the feeling that it’s mainly engineers and various business-related career types using the service. The take-away isn’t to attend school X but rather to major in engineering.

Of course, depending on the location and name-recognition, you’ll see fewer engineers but it still doesn’t seem to be capturing the college’s effect. Rather, instead of majoring in engineering, you should get a job in a high cost of living area with a brand-name diploma. The problem is that the earnings are obviously based on people who select to participate in PayScale.com–not a random sample of graduates adjusted for cost of living and majors.

The one nice thing about the Money’s Best Colleges is that when you use the College Planner, you can change the weighting of the three categories. This means that you can eliminate the earnings category completely from the methodology, which I did. While this changes the rankings, there are still a lot of familiar schools. After all, the most prestigious and competitive schools are also the ones most likely to provide generous financial aid which now accounts for half of the weighting under affordability.

Although I have some other issues with Money’s Best Colleges, I thought it would be interesting to list the 50-50 colleges that make the top 100 rankings as I did with US News Best College Rankings. Fewer 50-50 colleges make the Money top 100 than the US News Best Colleges top 100. I suspect this has a lot to do with the affordability weighting. I have noted before (here, here, and here) that not all 50-50 colleges are good financial options.

The following table includes all 50-50 colleges that made Money’s Best Colleges top 100. It also includes those that made the top 100 when I modified the weighting and eliminated the earnings section. Of course, that means that the modified list is focused on affordability, not ROI. Only nine schools made the top 100 for both lists. The only schools on the top 100 that accepted 50% or more of applicants and aren’t on my 50-50 list either didn’t have at least 500 full-time graduates or didn’t have a 50% or better graduation rate. As usual, the four-year graduation rate is used for private schools, the five-year for public.

50-50 Colleges in Top 100 of Money Magazine College Rankings
(Download PDF version)

Top 100Modified
No
Earnings
NameTypeStateFull-
time
Under-
grads
4/5 yr
Grad
Rate
8Maine Maritime AcademyPublicME97972
2024Texas A & M University-College StationPublicTX3964175
30Georgia Institute of TechnologyPublicGA1329176
3690University of Washington-Bothell CampusPublicWA343261
41Manhattan CollegePrivateNY319560
4865Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityPublicVA2351280
48Worcester Polytechnic InstitutePrivateMA395970
52Martin Luther CollegePrivateMN70252
5625University of Washington-Seattle CampusPublicWA2705078
56Fairfield UniversityPrivateCT354679
5928James Madison UniversityPublicVA1752680
59Clarkson UniversityPrivateNY308461
59Massachusetts Maritime AcademyPublicMA133364
64Providence CollegePrivateRI379883
6582University of DelawarePublicDE1685279
67Citadel Military College of South CarolinaPublicSC251767
6820University of GeorgiaPublicGA2474680
68Bryant UniversityPrivateRI320078
7192Saint Johns UniversityPrivateMN185071
7572University of ConnecticutPublicCT1721981
75Hobart William Smith CollegesPrivateNY232474
75Santa Clara UniversityPrivateCA533877
75University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignPublicIL3151682
75Villanova UniversityPrivatePA654786
82California Maritime AcademyPublicCA100857
88Bradley UniversityPrivateIL461855
93John Carroll UniversityPrivateOH295065
96Washington State UniversityPublicWA2031262
31College of Saint BenedictPrivateMN201575
32University of Wisconsin-MadisonPublicWI2856879
36Augustana CollegePrivateIL250974
37Grove City CollegePrivatePA243877
38Lawrence UniversityPrivateWI151869
45Mount Mercy UniversityPrivateIA88266
48Clark UniversityPrivateMA227076
54Wheaton CollegePrivateIL237874
56St Olaf CollegePrivateMN308183
57Houghton CollegePrivateNY102365
60University of Northern IowaPublicIA933062
62Wofford CollegePrivateSC159878
63Elmhurst CollegePrivateIL273659
66Gustavus Adolphus CollegePrivateMN242381
69St Mary's College of MarylandPublicMD176278
70University of California-Santa CruzPublicCA1532369
71University of Mary WashingtonPublicVA384373
73University of California-RiversidePublicCA1820562
74Michigan State UniversityPublicMI3483874
86Indiana University-BloomingtonPublicIN3105074
88Sewanee-The University of the SouthPrivateTN160276
89Centre CollegePrivateKY137880
91Westminster CollegePrivatePA125463
95Ohio State University-Main CampusPublicOH4002081
97Knox CollegePrivateIL140071
99Agnes Scott CollegePrivateGA89766
100Stonehill CollegePrivateMA245882
  1. That’s interesting that you noticed their basing on salaries mainly on reported engineering or business salaries. Thanks for digging into what the data really means.

    The first two universities we visited, we noticed they were both happy to quote that 95-98% of the graduates from their engineering school were accepted to graduate school or got job offers. Neither one even knew what their rate was for the rest of the university.

    • Michelle Kretzschmar says:

      Wow, what a way to sell you on the value of their universities! I think it’s time for colleges to include their career centers under their “enrollment management” budgets.

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