The 50 Most Affordable Colleges with the Best Return

by John Ferrer

most affordable sealWhat’s the use of an affordable college if a degree from it doesn’t earn you a good living? Conversely, what’s the point of paying an expensive tuition if you can get a high-quality, high-return education for half the cost?

In this ranking of colleges and universities, we try to balance two things: (1) the school’s annual cost of tuition (for 2013-14) and (2) your expected income on graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the school (in 2013 dollars). Schools in this ranking keep the cost of tuition down but promise a high income after graduation.

Combining low tuition with a high return is a very desirable combination. Expensive schools exist whose graduates earn, on average, a high income. But what if you’re not rich? How do you get the money to attend these schools, short of getting a scholarship or taking out a large student loan? And what will you do if for some reason (sickness, accident, family troubles) you can’t complete the degree program and are saddled with an enormous student debt?

Much safer is to find an affordable college that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg for tuition but also gives you the education you need to have a successful, well-paying career. That’s what our ranking of affordable high-return colleges does: it lists schools that are at once affordable and whose graduates command high-paying jobs. For our method of determining affordability-plus-return, click here.

What follows is our ranking of the 50 most affordable colleges with the best return. Note that where schools have the same return, we break the tie in favor of the school with the lower tuition.


1

United States Naval Academy (Annapolis)

Annapolis, MD

Graduates of the highly ranked liberal arts college obtain a Bachelor’s of Science degree. Graduates receive a commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy or as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. The students called midshipmen, are officers in training. The U.S. Navy pays for their tuition in return for an active-duty service obligation after they graduate. Applicants are required to apply directly to the academy and obtain a nomination, typically from a congressional representative.


2

United States Military Academy (West Point)

West Point, NY

The graduates of the highly ranked liberal arts college receive a Bachelor’s of Science degree. The students, known as cadets are officers in training. The United States Army pays for their tuition in return for an active-duty obligation. Graduates of the United State Military Academy receive a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. Applicants must apply directly to the academy and obtain a nomination, typically from a congressional representative.


3

SUNY Maritime College (State University of New York)

Throggs Neck, NY

SUNY Maritime College, a public institution, is the largest of the six state maritime academies. The college prepares students for careers in the international maritime industry. SUNY Maritime College provides nationally ranked programs in the fields of marine environmental studies, engineering, humanities and international business.

Students can combine any bachelor’s degree program with preparation for the professional license as a United States Merchant Marine Officer. Every engineering degree hase received accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).


4

United States Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs)

Colorado Springs, CO

The core curriculum at the United States Air Force Academy comprises the majority of the academic experience, however the students, known as cadets are required to select a specialized field of study from over 30 majors.

The cadets receive military training throughout their four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy which includes courses and instruction in aviation and airmanship. Candidates are required to pass a fitness test and obtain a nomination, typically from a member of Congress in the candidate’s home district.


5

Colorado School of Mines

Golden, CO

The Colorado School of Mines, an engineering and applied sciences public institution, has 21 academic departments including Geophysics, Engineering and Hydrologic Sciences. The school also provides degree programs in Liberal Arts & International Studies and in other areas.

The school’s admissions standards are among the highest of any public university in the United States. The Colorado School of Mines has partnerships with local government laboratories. The Colorado School of Mines is one of the world’s major institutions regarding researching and teaching about mining-related engineering.


6

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA

The highly ranked Georgia Institute of Technology, also known as Georgia Tech, is one of the nation’s largest research schools. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifies Georgia Institute of Technology as a university with very high research activity.

Georgia Institute of Technology’s six schools provide a wide variety of degree programs.
Georgia Tech provides a focused, technology based education. Georgia Tech has received accolades for its degree programs in engineering, computing, architecture, the sciences, business, and liberal arts.


7

University of California – Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

The faculty members of the highly ranked University of California, Berkeley, a public research university, have received numerous national and international awards. UC Berkeley includes the prominent Hass School of Business, ranked among the top 25 business schools in the world.
The National Research Council ranked more than 40 of the school’s programs among the top 10 in the United States. The College of Letters and Science is the schools largest college.


8

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Rola, MO

The Missouri University of Science and Technology, also known as Missouri S&T, is known as an engineering and science based school. Missouri S&T is renowned for its hard science programs. Its graduates have made great contributions to science. Engineering is the most popular field of study, computer science is far behind in second place. Missouri University of Science and Technology also provides programs in the fields of the arts, social science and business.


9

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Buzzards Bay, MA

Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a coeducational public institution, provides baccalaureate and master’s of science degrees. The undergraduate academic programs feature several distinct majors and emphasize a blend of technical and professional studies with liberal arts.

Graduates of the school’s two oldest programs, Marine Transportation and Marine Engineering obtain two-fold credentials: A Bachelor of Science degree and a professional license as Third Mate or Third Assistant Engineer. The USTS Enterprise is a maritime academy training ship.


10

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

Rapid City, SD

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, a public institution, provides graduate and undergraduate degree programs in engineering and science fields. Graduates of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology design, construct and operate technology. The school performs research in a number of important areas of science and engineering. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology named a Fulbright Top Producing Institution.


11

Michigan Technological University

Houghton, MI

Michigan Technological University provides more than 120 undergraduate areas of study and numerous master’s degrees. The university offers degrees in engineering; business; technology; natural, physical and environmental sciences; social sciences and more.

The university performs research in a wide array of areas. The students perform research, often one-on-one with a professor, as part of the academic curriculum. Students participating in the Enterprise Program work with industry sponsors on projects such as wireless communications, environmental sustainability, improved snowboards and more.


12

California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo)

San Luis Obispo, CA

Undergraduates at California Polytechnic State University, also known as Cal Poly, have a variety of majors to choose from. The highly ranked engineering programs are the most popular programs. The school has more than 80 state-of the art laboratories dedicated to the Cal Poly College of Engineering.

Students choose a major when they apply for admission. Students take classes in their major beginning in their first year. The courses emphasize active learning methods; they have a high proportion of lab work and field work.


13

New Jersey Institute of Technology

Newark, NJ

New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), a public research university provides a blend of liberal and technical education. NJIT provides graduate and undergraduate programs in the fields of business, architecture, medical, engineering, science, legal, technological and more. The school provides opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. NJIT is home to the Enterprise Development Center, one of the nation’s largest high-technology business incubators.


14

University of California – San Diego

La Jolla, CA

University of California, San Diego, a public research university, provides a variety of graduate and undergraduate degree programs. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has designated UC San Diego as a university with very high research activity. UC San Diego operates four research institutes.

The university includes the highly ranked Jacobs School of Engineering and School of Medicine. The faculty includes Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Fellowship, Tony Award and Academy Award winners.


15

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Socorro, NM

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, a public research institution, specializes in science, engineering and related fields. Students have opportunities for one-on-one mentoring relationships with professors and opportunities for on-campus employment in one of the numerous research facilities or with research faculty members.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is a world leader in numerous research areas such as astrophysics, hydrology, geophysics, atmospheric physics, geological sciences, information technology and more.


16

Montana Tech

Butte, MT

Montana Tech of the University of Montana, a public institution, has a heavy focus on technical and scientific education. The school provides 40 academic programs. Students learn from professors (most of them have current industry experience) not from teaching assistants. The classes have an emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. Montana Tech has four main units: College of Technology; College of Letters, Sciences and Professional Studies; School of Mines and Engineering; and the Graduate School.


17

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA

The highly ranked University of Virginia, a public research university, offers a wide array of degree programs. The university’s graduate programs include the highly ranked School of Law and Medicine, Curry School of Education, School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Darden School of Business Administration.

Faculty members have received the Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Award, the Humboldt Awards, the National Book Award and Fulbright Fellowships. UNESCO has designated the University of Virginia campus a World Heritage Site.


18

Texas A&M University

College Station, TX

Texas A&M University, a public research institution, provides a wide array of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The school’s Cadet Corps is the nation’s largest ROTC program. Texas A&M University has highly ranked graduate offerings via its Mays Business School, Dwight Look College of Engineering and the College of Education and Human Development. Texas A&M University a prominent research university is among the nation’s top 25 for total research expenditures.


19

University of California – Irvine

Irvine, CA

University of California, Irvine, a public research institution, offers a wide variety of graduate and undergraduate degree programs. The university has highly regarded graduate programs with specialty offerings at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and the Paul Merage School of Business.

Achievements in the sciences, arts, humanities, management and medicine have collected top national rankings in over 40 academic programs. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher education has designated UC Irvine as having very high research activity.


20

University of California – Davis

Davis, CA

University of California, Davis, a public research university, provides a wide variety of academic options through its graduate, undergraduate and professional schools and colleges. The University of California, Davis includes the highly ranked School of Law, Graduate School of Management, College of Engineering, School of Medicine and the School of Veterinary Medicine. The university offers a large number of undergraduate majors and graduate programs. UC Davis has an impressive research budget.


21

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)

Blacksburg, VA

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also known as Virginia Tech, is a public institution providing a large number of degree programs through eight colleges, with strengths in technology, science, engineering as well as professional programs. The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets keeps the military tradition, but comprises only a small fraction of the student population.

Virginia Tech is a prominent research school. All students, including undergraduates, have opportunities to benefit from research experiences. Virginia Tech includes the highly ranked College of Engineering.


22

University of California – Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

The highly ranked University of California, Los Angeles, also known as UCLA, is a public university. UCLA includes high ranked schools such as the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies; Anderson School of Management; School of Law; Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, School of Public Affairs; David Geffen School of Medicine, School of Public Health and the School of Nursing. The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is one of the nation’s top ranked hospitals.


23

Oregon Institute of Technology

Klamath Falls, OR

Oregon Institute of Technology, also known as Oregon Tech, is a technical and professional public institution with a mission to provide technology education throughout Oregon and the Pacific Northwest region. Oregon Institute of Technology, traditionally known for its engineering and technology programs, also has programs in business, environmental science, management and health professions. Oregon Tech emphasizes sustainability in academic and campus life. The school also emphasizes lab-based instruction. The students can also learn through externships.


24

Purdue University (Indiana)

West Lafayette, IN

Purdue University, a public university, has a large number of undergraduate and graduate programs as well as renowned research initiatives. The university also has professional degrees in pharmacy and veterinary medicine.

Purdue University includes the prominent Krannert School of Management, College of Education, College of Engineering and the College of Pharmacy. More than 20 of nation’s astronauts have Purdue degrees. Purdue University has the fourth largest international student population of all the universities in the United States.


25

Stony Brook University (State University of New York)

Stony Brook, NY

Stony Brook University, a public institution and part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, offers a large number of majors, minors as well as combined-degree programs for undergraduates. The school also has numerous graduate degree programs.

Freshmen belong to one of six undergraduate colleges organized based on students’ interests. Undergraduates have research opportunities. The university includes the highly ranked Stony Brook University Medical Center. Stony Brook University is a member of the elite Association of American Universities.


26

University of California – Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, CA

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), a public research institution, has five schools and colleges. UCSB includes the Gervirtz Graduate School of Education, College of Engineering and the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Undergraduates at the University of California, Santa Barbara can apply for admissions to the College of Creative Studies, which emphasizes focused studies in one of eight areas: Chemistry, biology, biochemistry, art, literature, computer science, music composition, mathematics and physics.


27

University of Texas – Austin

Austin, TX

University of Texas, Austin, a public research university, is one of the nation’s largest schools and offers a large number of degree programs. University of Texas, Austin, the flagship institution of the University of Texas System, includes the highly ranked College of Education, McCombs School of Business, College of Fine Arts, Cockrell School of Engineering, College of Pharmacy, School of Nursing and the School of Social Work. The university provides hundreds of study abroad programs.


28

San Jose State University

San Jose, CA

San Jose State University, a public institution, part of the California State University system, offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The school has strong programs in the fields of education, journalism, healthcare, social work, art and music. Popular areas of study among graduate students include education, engineering, library and information science, and social work. San Jose State University provides Silicon Valley companies with computer science, engineering and business graduates.


29

University of Maryland – College Park

College Park, MD

University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), the flagship campus of Maryland’s university system offer more than 120 bachelor’s degrees and more than 100 graduate degrees. UMCP, strong in the sciences, has several schools and departments with records of excellence.

UCMP has a strong research orientation. UCMP is involved in cooperative projects with the National Institute of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Homeland Security. The Physical Science Complex has one of the world’s top quantum science laboratories.


30

Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey)

New Brunswick, NJ

Rutgers University New Brunswick, a public institution, has five mini-campus named Cook, Douglass, Busch, College Avenue and Livingston. All the campuses have a unique environment. Busch Campus focuses mainly in academic areas related to the natural sciences. The Livingston Campus is home to the Rutgers Business School. The faculty at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, includes national and international experts in their field. Rutgers University, New Brunswick has more than 170 centers and institutes exploring a range of issues.


31

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI

The highly ranked University of Michigan, Ann Arbor provides a wide array of undergraduate and graduate degrees. The university includes the highly ranked College of Engineering, School of Education, Medical School, Law School, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, School of Nursing and the School of Public Health. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a strong research institution, includes the Institute for Social Research, one of the world’s oldest and largest institutes for social sciences.


32

University of Washington – Seattle

Seattle, WA

University of Washington, Seattle is the largest university on the west coast. The university includes the highly regarded School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Law, the Library and Information School, the College of Engineering and the School of Pharmacy. The university has strong programs in the liberal arts and sciences. More than a third of the University of Washington students enroll mostly or completely in online classes. The University of Washington is a major research school.


33

Clemson University (South Carolina)

Clemson, SC

Clemson University, a public university and one of the nation’s major research schools, provides a variety of graduate and undergraduate degrees. Clemson University has many nationally ranked graduate programs. The university’s five colleges have more than 100 departments. The Calhoun Honors College educates gifted students who excelled in high school. Creative Inquiry, a unique form of undergraduate research, has a top priority at the university. Clemson University has a military presence.


34

George Mason University (Virginia)

Fairfax, VA

George Mason University (GMU), a public university with several suburban campus locations, offers an array of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs from its colleges and schools. GMU includes the George Mason School of Law. George Mason University has strengths in the basic and applied sciences. George Mason University receives research support from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.


35

Southern Polytechnic State University (Georgia)

Marietta, GA

Southern Polytechnic State University, a public institution, offers a wide array of majors through its five schools: School of Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Construction Management, the School of Engineering, School of Computing and Software Engineering; and the School of Engineering Technology and Management.

Southern Polytechnic University, part of the University System of Georgia, has a strong reputation in the areas of science, technology, engineering and related fields.


36

California State Polytechnic University – Pomona

Pomona, CA

California State Polytechnic, Pomona, also known as Cal Poly Pomona, through eight colleges provides a variety of fields of study. The school has highly respected programs such as the engineering program. Cal Poly Pomona incorporates a learn-by-doing strategy into its project and presentation-based coursework. All of the academic areas utilize the teaching of theory through application. The students at Cal Poly Pomona also obtain a broad-based education via the general education program.


37

The College of William and Mary (Virginia)

Williamsburg, VA

The Highly ranked College of William and Mary, a public institution, has a long history of liberal arts education. The college has a growing research and science curriculum with a commitment to undergraduate research. Undergraduates have opportunities to work with peers and experienced faculty mentors on projects.

The College of William & Mary provides undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. The institutions highly ranked schools include the School of Education, Marshall-Wythe School of Law and the Mason School of Business.


38

West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech)

Montgomery, WV

West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech), a public institution and a division of West Virginia University provides an array of baccalaureate degrees. WVU Tech has gained recognition for its academic programs, especially in STEM subjects. WVU Tech provides nationally renowned ABET accredited engineering programs.

The school includes the Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Sciences and the College of Business, Humanities and Social Studies. The school’s strong STEM majors allows the school to provide high quality pre-professional programs.


39

University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Minneapolis, MN

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, a public research university and part of the University of Minnesota system, provides a large number of degree programs. Besides traditional degree programs the university offers bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctoral degree and specialty degrees completely online. The university includes the highly ranked College of Education and Human Development, the Carlson School of Management and the Law School. The University of Minnesota, Twin Cites has over 300 exchange programs around the world.


40

North Carolina State University

Raleigh, NC

North Carolina State University, also known as NC State, a public research institution, has received national and international rankings for its academic programs and research. NC State has an array of academic departments serving graduate students such as the highly ranked engineering school, well known for its nuclear and biological/agricultural engineering programs. NC State is part of the Research Triangle along with The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University in Durham.


41

University of Arizona

Tucson, AZ

University of Arizona, a public research university offers a large number of academic and professional programs. The university includes the prestigious School of Public Administration and Policy, College of Engineering, College of Nursing and the Eller College of Management.

Programs such as geosciences, management information systems and rehabilitation counseling have received high rankings. The university’s Department of Astronomy has received recognition as one of the best in the world. The university is a member of the Association of American Universities.


42

University of Delaware

Newark, DE

University of Delaware, includes seven colleges. Although the university receives public funding it has a private charter. The university provides a large number graduate degree programs. The highly ranked College of Engineering and the School of Education provide graduate programs. The university of Delaware also provides a large number of undergraduate programs. Students in the school’s nationally acclaimed Undergraduate Research Program work with faculty members as research assistants.


43

University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago, IL

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a public research university, is one of the universities with the highest research classification from the Carnegie Foundation. Through the UIC Undergraduate Research Experience, college students can pair up with a faculty mentor and create a research project in an array of academic areas.

UIC includes the recognized College of Education, Liautaud Graduate School of Business and an engineering school. The Honors College resembles a small liberal arts college situated in a large research university.


44

University of Alabama – Huntsville

Huntsville, AL

University of Alabama, Huntsville, also known as UA Huntsville, is a public university and part of the University of Alabama System. The university is located in the Cummings Research Park, a major international center for advanced technological research. The school’s location provides faculty members and students unique opportunities. The university also helps NASA reach its goals. The University of Alabama, Huntsville has received recognition for its engineering and science programs.


45

University of Houston

Houston, TX

The University of Houston, a public research university, operates more than 40 research centers and institutes on campus. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Houston as a Tier One research university. The University of Houston Law Center has received recognition for its intellectual property law, healthcare law and part-time law programs. The university also includes the Cullen College of Engineering, the C.T. Bauer College of Business and other graduate schools.


46

Miami University (Ohio)

Oxford, OH

Miami University, a public research university, provides a wide variety of graduate and undergraduate degrees. Graduate and undergraduate students have numerous opportunities to perform research. Miami University ranks first among public colleges in the United States for the rate of undergraduate students who study abroad.

Miami University has the following academic divisions: The School of Education; College of Arts and Science; School of Engineering and Applied Science; College of Education, Health and Society; the Farmer School of Business and the School of Creative Arts, College of Professional Studies and Applied Sciences and the Graduate School.


47

Binghamton University (State University of New York)

Binghamton, NY

Binghamton, SUNY, a public research institution, has a dedication to undergraduate education. The school also provides graduate degrees from the highly ranked Department of Public Administration, Department of History and the Department of Psychology.

Binghamton University has gained recognition for its sustainability efforts. The university has one of the nation’s largest study abroad programs. Binghamton University emphasis entrepreneurship via its Entrepreneurship Across the Curriculum program. Binghamton University consists of six schools.


48

Baruch College (City University of New York)

New York City, NY

CUNY, Bernard M Baruch College, known as Baruch College has three schools providing graduate and undergraduate programs: The Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, Zicklin School of Business and the School of Public Affairs. The Zicklin School of Business is one of the nation’s largest business schools and its received AACSB accreditation.

The Division of Continuing and Professional Studies provides many non-degree and certificate courses. Baruch College provides solid education in business, the arts and sciences and professional education.


49

Auburn University (Alabama)

Auburn, AL

Auburn University, a public university, offers more than 140 degree programs. Auburn University has highly ranked programs in the fields of pharmacy, architecture, engineering, veterinary science, forestry and business. Auburn University has graduated six astronauts. The university emphasizes international education.

Auburn University has a global impact via modern agricultural extension as well as forestry/wildlife programs. The university provides vital research in the sciences, mathematics, pharmaceutical, nursing, education and human science areas.


50

James Madison University (Virginia)

Harrisonburg, VA

James Madison University, a public research university, offers a large number of graduate and undergraduate degree programs. The university has its main emphasis on undergraduate students. James Madison University offers an education with a foundation based on a wide range of liberal arts.

James Madison University has an extensive variety of professional and pre-professional programs enhanced by numerous learning experiences outside of the classroom. James Madison University has a strong study abroad program as well as exchange programs via partner institutions throughout the world.