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.