10.  California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) - San Luis Obispo

collage roi polytechnic state university
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  • 20-year return on investment : $696,100
  • Annualized return: 13.1%
  • Total 4-year cost of attendance: $93,200

While Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is also focused on science and engineering programs, nearly 70% of its graduates study non-STEM programs. Unlike most universities, Cal Poly requires that prospective students apply for a particular major before they begin attending.

The majority of Cal Poly students remain in state after graduation, and they typically earn an early career salary of $56,000 a year.

The best investment, according to PayScale's analysis, is in a Cal Poly computer science and math degree, which brings in a return of more than $1 million in 20 years.

First published March 5, 2015: 1:50 PM ET
Source: PayScale
Based on employee survey data, PayScale calculated total median pay for a school's undergraduate alumni over a 20-year period and compared it to the median pay for a high school graduate over 24 years. The return on investment (ROI) in 2014 dollars was determined by taking the difference between those median pay figures and subtracting the in-state cost of attending the school in 2014 -- including tuition, room and board, and other costs -- and adjusting for scholarships and grants. The annualized ROI is calculated by dividing the earnings differential by the total cost and represents the percent of expected ROI received each year after graduation. Unlike in previous PayScale reports, the earnings differentials in this report do not take into account graduation rates. Alumni who attended graduate school or other higher education were excluded.

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