The growing student loan debt crisis is one of the most daunting public policy challenges of our time. In the last 10 years alone, total student loan debt more than doubled in the United States, overtaking both credit card debt and auto loans, and hitting an all-time high of $1.5 trillion.
This increase in debt is not attributable to growing enrollment. In fact, the number of Americans enrolled at undergraduate institutions fell by 7% — from 18.1 million in 2010 to 16.8 million in 2017. The more significant factor in the student debt crisis is the increasing cost of college — and the relatively low-paying careers that await some graduates.
The cost of attending a four-year college has climbed faster each decade since the 1980s. In the 2018-2019 academic year, it costs an average of $48,510 to attend a private nonprofit college — a 96% increase from the average inflation-adjusted cost of $24,800 in the 1988-1989 academic year. This is how much college cost the year you were born.
Meanwhile, at some of the nation’s top-ranked colleges and universities, over half of all alumni who took out loans earn less than $40,000 per year. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the median earnings, 10 years after matriculation, of former students who received federal financial aid while attending school as a percentage of annual tuition and fees to identify the 50 top-ranked colleges that pay off the least. Earnings data by institution came from the U.S. Department of Education.
It is important to note that the earnings used to rank schools for this story are medians and are not representative of what all alumni earn. Earnings after graduation can often depend more on field of study than the institution itself. These are the highest- and lowest-paying college majors in America.
Correction: Due to a data processing error, Union College and Emmanuel College were included in a previous version of this story. After their removal from this list, Sewanee-University of the South and Hartwick College have been added. Additionally, Wheaton College moved in rank from number 28 to number 21. Additionally, a previous version of this article incorrectly characterized median earnings as 10 years after graduation and cost of attendance as an average. In fact, the earnings figures noted are 10 years after enrollment and cost of attendance is full tuition and fees.