50 Top Ranked Colleges That Pay Off the Least

July 13, 2017 by Steven M. Peters

Source: Thinkstock
For a special few Americans, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, completing college was unnecessary — perhaps even a hindrance — to their vision and success. Most people, however, consider college to be fundamental to achieving their goals and doing well in life.

In fact, the number of people attending degree-granting postsecondary institutions has grown to 17 million – a 30% increase since 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Not all college degrees translate to financial success, however. In addition to nearly 70% of students graduating with debt in recent years, many graduates of even the country’s top-ranked schools are earning comparatively low salaries in the working world.

The average median salary for graduates who completed a four-year degree at one of the 206 schools the U.S. News & World Report considers to be the best national universities and national liberal arts colleges is nearly $54,000 a decade after graduating. Graduates from the 50 schools that produce the highest earners bring in nearly $70,000 on average.

On the other end of the spectrum, graduates from 84 schools report a median annual earnings of less than $50,000 a decade after entering school. Graduates from 15 schools report median earnings of less than $40,000 a year, and graduates from three less than $30,000.

In addition to being unable to promise high wages for students later in life, many colleges frequently increase tuition. Barely two decades ago, average tuition for a four-year private college or university was less than $15,000. Today, nearly three-quarters of the top ranked schools charged over $40,000 in tuition and fees in the 2016-2017 school year. This includes 33 of the schools that produced the lowest-earning graduates.

Click here to see the top ranked colleges that pay off the least.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

50. Furman University (S.C.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $46,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$116,320
> Typical student debt: $20,000
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (15.7%)

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Source: Thinkstock

49. Westmont College (Calif.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $46,800
> Cost of four-year degree:$121,480
> Typical student debt: $19,500
> Most common degree awarded: Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies (13.6%)

Source: RebelNation1947 / Wikimedia Commons

48. Millsaps College (Miss.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $45,600
> Cost of four-year degree:$85,440
> Typical student debt: $22,394
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (24.1%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

47. Indiana University-Bloomington (Ind.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$57,480
> Typical student debt: $19,000
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (19.1%)

Source: Chris Light/Wikimedia Commons

46. Miami University-Oxford (Ohio)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $45,500
> Cost of four-year degree:$94,364
> Typical student debt: $16,500
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (24.8%)

Source: Mwanner/Wikimedia Commons

45. St Lawrence University (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $45,500
> Cost of four-year degree:$108,616
> Typical student debt: $25,000
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (28.4%)

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Source: Jackson Myers/Flickr

44. Florida State University (Fla.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$63,308
> Typical student debt: $18,750
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (19.0%)

Source: Daniel Edwins/Wikimedia Commons

43. St Olaf College (Minn.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $45,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$99,932
> Typical student debt: $25,304
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (18.6%)

Source: AlexiusHoratius/Wikimedia Commons

42. University of Vermont (Vt.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,900
> Cost of four-year degree:$63,352
> Typical student debt: $17,806
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (11.4%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

41. Spelman College (Ga.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $46,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$137,232
> Typical student debt: $25,000
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (26.9%)

Source: Lauriealosh/Wikimedia Commons

40. Pitzer College (Calif.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $45,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$110,496
> Typical student debt: $15,300
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (22.6%)

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Source: .curt./Wikimedia Commons

39. Kenyon College (Ohio)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$116,812
> Typical student debt: $17,525
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (28.9%)

Source: MacAllenBrothers/Wikimedia Commons

38. Smith College (Mass.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,400
> Cost of four-year degree:$109,624
> Typical student debt: $19,000
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (25.7%)

Source: Casey Marshall/Wikimedia Commons

37. University of California-Santa Cruz (Calif.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$64,344
> Typical student debt: $16,500
> Most common degree awarded: Biological and Biomedical Sciences (17.7%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

36. Grinnell College (Iowa)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$75,076
> Typical student debt: $10,077
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (32.1%)

Source: John Phelan/Wikimedia Commons

35. Mount Holyoke College (Mass.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$109,288
> Typical student debt: $19,968
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (31.0%)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

34. Ohio State University-Main Campus (Ohio)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $42,900
> Cost of four-year degree:$72,272
> Typical student debt: $16,188
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (17.5%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

33. Centre College (Ky.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,300
> Cost of four-year degree:$89,624
> Typical student debt: $23,250
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (28.7%)

Source: masharee/Wikimedia Commons

32. Washington College (Md.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$120,316
> Typical student debt: $25,107
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (21.8%)

Source: Camerafiend/Wikimedia Commons

31. University of Tulsa (Okla.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,600
> Cost of four-year degree:$107,376
> Typical student debt: $20,000
> Most common degree awarded: Engineering (22.3%)

 
Source: Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikimedia Commons

 

30. Wheaton College (Mass.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $44,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$124,692
> Typical student debt: $23,189
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (23.1%)

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Source: Adamsofen/Wikimedia Commons

29. Whitman College (Wash.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,800
> Cost of four-year degree:$118,196
> Typical student debt: $15,750
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (23.2%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

28. Clark University (Mass.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $42,800
> Cost of four-year degree:$88,260
> Typical student debt: $23,798
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (26.3%)

Source: DASonnenfeld/Wikimedia Commons

27. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $42,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$73,284
> Typical student debt: $17,418
> Most common degree awarded: Natural Resources and Conservation (38.4%)

Source: Peter Flass/Wikimedia Commons

26. Skidmore College (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $43,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$108,692
> Typical student debt: $18,495
> Most common degree awarded: Visual and Performing Arts (17.4%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

25. Wheaton College (Ill.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $42,500
> Cost of four-year degree:$95,600
> Typical student debt: $21,500
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (14.0%)

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Source: Phillip M Kukelhan/Wikimedia Commons

24. Ohio Wesleyan University (Ohio)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $42,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$111,292
> Typical student debt: $22,191
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (15.4%)

Source: Loco Steve/flickr

23. Knox College (Ill.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $41,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$84,004
> Typical student debt: $23,080
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (24.1%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

22. Luther College (Iowa)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $41,800
> Cost of four-year degree:$97,284
> Typical student debt: $26,968
> Most common degree awarded: Visual and Performing Arts (13.9%)

Source: ArtisticAbode/Wikimedia Commons

21. Cornell College (Iowa)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $40,900
> Cost of four-year degree:$82,928
> Typical student debt: $26,332
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (17.9%)

Source: Rex Hammock/flickr

20. Sewanee-The University of the South (Tenn.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $40,600
> Cost of four-year degree:$82,400
> Typical student debt: $15,417
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (18.7%)

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Source: Royalbroil/Wikimedia Commons

19. Lawrence University (Wis.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $41,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$100,652
> Typical student debt: $26,133
> Most common degree awarded: Visual and Performing Arts (21.9%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

18. Hendrix College (Ark.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $40,500
> Cost of four-year degree:$94,252
> Typical student debt: $18,225
> Most common degree awarded: Biological and Biomedical Sciences (20.4%)

Source: Chris Phan/Wikimedia Commons

17. Lewis & Clark College (Ore.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $41,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$134,380
> Typical student debt: $19,500
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (22.2%)

Source: TUPictures/Wikimedia Commons

16. Transylvania University (Ky.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $39,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$87,252
> Typical student debt: $23,320
> Most common degree awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services (14.3%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

15. Oberlin College (Ohio)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $40,300
> Cost of four-year degree:$117,944
> Typical student debt: $24,000
> Most common degree awarded: Visual and Performing Arts (24.4%)

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Source: Pete716/Wikimedia Commons

14. SUNY Buffalo State (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $38,100
> Cost of four-year degree:$47,596
> Typical student debt: $15,000
> Most common degree awarded: Education (18.8%)

Source: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons

13. Agnes Scott College (Ga.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $38,800
> Cost of four-year degree:$74,068
> Typical student debt: $22,750
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (21.0%)

Source: Mark Lee/Wikimedia Commons

12. Colorado College (Colo.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $39,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$109,736
> Typical student debt: $18,000
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (28.2%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

11. Bard College (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $38,700
> Cost of four-year degree:$116,608
> Typical student debt: $20,000
> Most common degree awarded: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (39.0%)

Source: Sa magnuson33/Wikimedia Commons

10. Beloit College (Wis.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $37,900
> Cost of four-year degree:$94,388
> Typical student debt: $23,250
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (22.0%)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Sarah Lawrence College (N.Y.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $37,000
> Cost of four-year degree:$133,020
> Typical student debt: $13,126
> Most common degree awarded: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (100.0%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

8. Berea College (Ky.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $33,400
> Cost of four-year degree:$12,268
> Typical student debt: $5,428
> Most common degree awarded: Biological and Biomedical Sciences (9.9%)

Source: Cacophony/Wikimedia Commons

7. Reed College (Ore.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $35,200
> Cost of four-year degree:$83,520
> Typical student debt: $14,346
> Most common degree awarded: Social Sciences (20.3%)

Source: smi23le/flickr

6. St John’s College (Md.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $35,200
> Cost of four-year degree:$117,824
> Typical student debt: $21,000
> Most common degree awarded: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (100.0%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. Earlham College (Ind.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $33,400
> Cost of four-year degree:$75,676
> Typical student debt: $18,500
> Most common degree awarded: Biological and Biomedical Sciences (16.7%)

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Source: Harold Litwiler/flickr

4. Thomas Aquinas College (Calif.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $30,200
> Cost of four-year degree:$81,840
> Typical student debt: $16,188
> Most common degree awarded: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (100.0%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

3. St. John’s College (N.M.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $27,600
> Cost of four-year degree:$96,508
> Typical student debt: $19,500
> Most common degree awarded: Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities (100.0%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

2. College of the Atlantic (Maine)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $26,400
> Cost of four-year degree:$69,852
> Typical student debt: $15,334
> Most common degree awarded: Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies (100.0%)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

1. Bennington College (Vt.)
> Typical salary 10 yrs. after entry: $24,600
> Cost of four-year degree:$111,604
> Typical student debt: $19,500
> Most common degree awarded: Visual and Performing Arts (46.5%)

While the group of schools considered for this article consists approximately of half universities and half liberal arts colleges, the majority of schools producing graduates earning the least are liberal arts colleges. Only 14 of the 50 listed are universities. This could result from a higher share of university students majoring in subjects such as the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – disciplines, which often lead to higher paying jobs.

In over half of the colleges on the list the yearly tuition fees are higher than the reported median earnings of graduates. At Bennington College – which holds the number one position on this list with most graduates not even earning $25,000 a year — a year’s tuition is $25,970 more than the median earnings after attending. The most common major at this school is Visual and Performing Arts.

To identify the 50 top-ranked colleges that produce graduates that earn the least, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the median earnings of former students who received federal financial aid that are working and not enrolled in school 10 years after entry from the U.S. Department of Education, last updated in 2017. These earnings were then compared with U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 rankings of the 206 best national universities and liberal arts colleges, with the exceptions of United States service academies and Soka University of America, New College of Florida, and Hillsdale College, for which data was not available. Tuition data is for 2016-2017 and was provided by U.S. News. The percentage of students earning over $25,000 a year 10 years after entering school was provided by the U.S. Department of Education.