A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges

College ROI Boston

Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce issued a report ranking the ROI of all 4,500 colleges and universities listed in the College Scorecard.

Included among the researchers’ notable findings:

  • Community college and many certificate programs have the highest ROI in the short term (10 years).
  • Colleges that primarily award bachelor’s degrees have the highest ROI in the long term (40 years).
  • Public colleges have higher ROI than private colleges in the short term.
  • Degrees from private nonprofit colleges generally have a higher ROI in the long term than public universities.

Of the 4,500+ colleges and universities assessed, I’m proud that APUS ranks #93 overall for 40-year NPV (net present value) and 95th overall, or in the top two percent nationally and first among institutions from West Virginia. Our founding mission has been to provide a quality and affordable online education and this report confirms that keeping tuition low to help reduce student debt truly pays off for our students.

Given that this is the first time that the Center has tried to calculate an ROI for graduates of specific colleges, I am certain some will critique the methodologies employed as well as some of the data collected by the College Scorecard. Colleges and universities are not monoliths. For the most part, they have distinctive and diverse populations. In APUS’s case, we’re totally online, have mostly part-time, adult students serving in the U.S. military, and many of our students graduate with no debt because their employer pays for it and our tuition is comparable with public, in-state tuition. A student who borrows 100% of the cost of college will incur more debt than our median. At the same time, similar analyses can likely be conducted for each of the colleges assessed. It will be interesting to read the critiques and see if the researchers continue the report using the same methodology or change it based on comments from the field.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence