Colleges with biggest bang for the buck

Tuition and student debt levels are soaring. So which schools provide the best return on your investment? These five topped Payscale's list.

.  California Institute of Technology

california institute of technology college return investment gallery
  • 30-year return on investment: $2,103,000
  • Avg. total college cost: $213,000
  • Avg. annual scholarships and grants: $27,007
  • Graduation rate: 87%

At Caltech, undergraduates are able to take part in major research projects on everything from chemistry to space exploration.

Based in Pasadena, Calif., Caltech is home to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the country's first satellite was created in the 1950s. It's now a leading U.S. center for robotic space exploration.

Engineering-focused schools like Caltech dominate PayScale's list of colleges with the most valuable degrees. Engineering school graduates typically outearn high school grads by $1.2 million over 30 years, according to PayScale's report. In comparison, alumni of liberal arts colleges can expect to earn $458,405 more.

Source: PayScale
PayScale economists calculated the total median pay for a school's undergraduate alumnus over a 30-year career and compared it to that of a high school graduate who worked for 34 to 36 years. They then subtracted the college's average cost of attending -- including tuition, room and board, books and supplies -- and took scholarships and grants into account. From that, they determined the school's return on investment (in 2013 dollars). Alumni who went onto graduate school or other higher education were excluded from the calculations.
  @melhicken - Last updated May 02 2013 06:18 AM ET

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