Public Colleges with the Best Return on Investment

by TBS Staff
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For most people, a public college immediately comes to mind when considering value in higher education. The compensation for living in-state often proves a deciding factor on ROI. Public colleges and universities simply offer a great deal of education for the money. But with more than one public college in a state, finding the very best return for your college dollar may be more challenging than it first appears. That's why we're here to help.

Accredited Online Colleges

Accredited Public Colleges with the Best ROI

  1. University of California–Berkeley
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    With over 100 bachelor's programs to choose from, undergrads at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) have a number of unique offerings available to them. This includes majors such as dance and performance studies, landscape architecture, marine science, planetary science, and sustainable environmental design. Those interested in such popular programs as computer science, economics, media studies, and psychology should have an alternative choice ready as these offerings are part of a group of high-demand majors that have enrollment limits.

    In addition to having one of the best returns on investment of any public university in the country, UC Berkeley is known for its academic quality, distinguished professors, and overall value. Forbes ranks it as having the best value of any college in the U.S., while U.S. News & World Report (USNWR) ranks it as America's top public national university. Its current faculty contains 77 Fulbright scholars, 33 MacArthur fellows, seven Nobel laureates, and four Pulitzer Prize winners. Worldwide, UC Berkeley is fourth on USNWR's "Best Global Universities Rankings" and sixth on Times Higher Education's "World Reputation Rankings."

    • Max net price: $9,429
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $13,431
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $38,139
    • Graduation rate: 92%
    • Early-career pay: $60,500
    • Mid-career pay: $112,000
    • # applications: 78893
    • % admitted: 17%
    • # students: 38,189
    • # undergrads: 27,496
    • % retention (full-time): 96%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  2. University of California–Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), undergrads can select from more than 120 different majors, ranging from personal favorites to options they may never have considered before. A few of the intriguing offerings available include: atmospheric, oceanic, and environmental sciences; computational and systems biology; ethnomusicology; film and television; and international development studies. Some of UCLA's most-popular programs (by enrollment) include business economics, political science, psychobiology, psychology, and sociology.

    UCLA not only provides an excellent ROI overall, it is a particularly attractive choice for lower-income students. For instance, the university ranks fifth on The New York Times' 2015 college access/economic diversity rankings. Washington Monthly, meanwhile, lists UCLA as eighth best in the nation for contribution to the public good (which includes being 15th on the student social mobility index). Research and academic quality are also key strengths contributing to the value students receive. In that respect, U.S. News & World Report ranks UCLA second among public national universities and 10th among global universities.

    • Max net price: $9,526
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $12,763
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $37,471
    • Graduation rate: 91%
    • Early-career pay: $53,100
    • Mid-career pay: $98,100
    • # applications: 92690
    • % admitted: 17%
    • # students: 41,908
    • # undergrads: 29,585
    • % retention (full-time): 96%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  3. Georgia Institute of Technology–Main Campus
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    The Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) currently provides a choice of about three-dozen bachelor's degree programs. Some of its more-interesting offerings include computational media; discrete mathematics; history, technology, and society; industrial design; music technology; and public policy. GT's most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) include bioengineering and biomedical engineering, general business administration and management, general computer and information sciences, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering.

    To anyone who only thinks of Yellow Jackets football (or basketball) when they think of Georgia Tech, the educational bona fides of this university may be a surprise. However, GT is a legitimate academic heavyweight in a number of areas. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks this school seventh among public national universities in the country. Forbes, meanwhile, ranks it as the eighth-best value among all American colleges. Additionally, according to Diverse magazine, Georgia Tech is a Top 10 producer of architectural and engineering bachelor's degrees among several underrepresented minority groups.

    • Max net price: $9,028
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $12,204
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $32,396
    • Graduation rate: 85%
    • Early-career pay: $65,300
    • Mid-career pay: $112,000
    • # applications: 27277
    • % admitted: 32%
    • # students: 25,034
    • # undergrads: 15,142
    • % retention (full-time): 97%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  4. University of California–San Diego
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Undergrads at the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego or UCSD) can select from around 140 bachelor's programs (including specializations and concentrations). This includes such forward-looking and/or cross-disciplinary options as cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, interdisciplinary computing and the arts, molecular synthesis, nanoengineering, and speculative design. Some of the more-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are biochemistry, computer science, general economics, general psychology, and management science.

    When it comes to academics, educational access, research, and social impact, UC San Diego is among the best universities in the country. Washington Monthly currently ranks it fourth best in the nation (tops among public universities) for contribution to the public good. Its annual R&D spending tops $1 billion, which puts it fifth on the National Science Foundation's latest rankings. It also continues to have high graduation and freshmen retention rates, including among low-income students. In fact, in 2014-15, low-income students made up the largest group receiving undergraduate degrees from UC San Diego.

    • Max net price: $9,832
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $13,530
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $38,238
    • Graduation rate: 87%
    • Early-career pay: $54,400
    • Mid-career pay: $108,000
    • # applications: 78061
    • % admitted: 34%
    • # students: 32,906
    • # undergrads: 26,590
    • % retention (full-time): 95%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  5. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
    Location

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Selecting a major at the University of Michigan (U-M) is like a journey of discovery. Factor in all the options available (including sub-majors), and undergraduates suddenly have hundreds of choices, ranging from the traditional to the modern, and the common to the rare. This includes American culture, data science, environmental engineering, health and fitness, mathematics, and musicology. Popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) include experimental psychology, general business administration and management, general computer and information sciences, general economics, and general political science and government.

    While most casual observers know about the Michigan Wolverines sports teams and their dozens of NCAA championships, they may not realize U-M's academic credentials are equally impressive. The university currently ranks fourth among U.S. News & World Report's top public national universities and 14th on Times Higher Education's "World Reputation Rankings." U-M is also the top public university (second overall) on the National Science Foundation's total research and development (R&D) expenditure rankings.

    • Max net price: $7,735
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $14,729
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $45,002
    • Graduation rate: 90%
    • Early-career pay: $60,600
    • Mid-career pay: $98,900
    • # applications: 51797
    • % admitted: 26%
    • # students: 43,651
    • # undergrads: 28,312
    • % retention (full-time): 97%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
  6. California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo
    Location

    San Luis Obispo, CA

    Although its undergraduate offerings are not as extensive as some schools, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) still provides a diverse range of bachelor's programs. Among its more than 60 choices are such unique and intriguing options as bioresource and agricultural engineering; environmental management and protection; recreation, parks, and tourism administration; software engineering; and wine and viticulture. Popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) include architecture, general animal sciences, general biology/biological sciences, general business administration and management, and mechanical engineering.

    Cal Poly's ongoing focus on academic quality and value, and the career-readiness of its students, continues to produce impressive results. For instance, U.S. News & World Report's 2017 rankings mark the 24th consecutive year that Cal Poly is the top public regional (master's) university in the West. Consumers Digest, meanwhile, currently ranks Cal Poly as the fifth-best value among U.S. public colleges and universities. As to the students themselves, only nine percent were still trying to find a direction/job nine months after graduation. Of the other 91 percent, 82 percent report either working full time or pursuing advanced studies. Of those working, 94 percent found a job connected to their major.

    • Max net price: $12,644
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $9,001
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $20,161
    • Graduation rate: 76%
    • Early-career pay: $59,300
    • Mid-career pay: $102,000
    • # applications: 46820
    • % admitted: 31%
    • # students: 20,944
    • # undergrads: 20,049
    • % retention (full-time): 93%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  7. Purdue University–Main Campus
    Location

    West Lafayette, IN

    Purdue University's 200-plus bachelor's programs are among the most of any university on our ranking list. They include such diverse options as animation, brain and behavioral sciences, comparative literature, data visualization, industrial (consumer product) design, theatre acting, and unmanned aerial systems. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) include accounting, electrical and electronics engineering, general business administration and management, general communication, mechanical engineering, and sociology.

    Even though Purdue is a large university with a substantial number of programs, it maintains a well-above-average student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1. That focus on student success also extends to such areas as support services and teaching excellence. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks Purdue as having the 13th best undergraduate teaching among all national universities. Additionally, this school ranks fourth among U.S. public colleges/universities in a brand new Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education college ranking. The new ranking is heavily weighted toward academic quality and student success after graduation.

    • Max net price: $8,073
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $10,002
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $28,804
    • Graduation rate: 75%
    • Early-career pay: $57,400
    • Mid-career pay: $94,200
    • # applications: 45264
    • % admitted: 59%
    • # students: 40,472
    • # undergrads: 30,560
    • % retention (full-time): 92%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
  8. Texas A & M University–College Station
    Location

    College Station, TX

    With over 120 bachelor's degree programs available, Texas A&M University, College Station (Texas A&M or TAMU) provides students with a range of both common and unique areas of study, and traditional and modern subjects, as well. This includes programs such as dental hygiene, ecological restoration, entomology, forensic and investigative sciences, spatial sciences, and zoology. The most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are accounting, agribusiness/agricultural business operations, general biomedical sciences, general psychology, and other multi-/interdisciplinary studies.

    Students considering Texas A&M can feel good about the fact that in addition to its high return on investment, the university scores well on academic quality and very well on the value of the education it provides. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks it as being the 21st best value among national universities in the country. In Forbes' "Best Value Colleges" ranking (which is weighted toward ROI), it comes in three places higher (18th). Texas A&M's research efforts are also impressive. In the NSF's latest rankings, the university is listed at 16th, with just over $865 million in total R&D expenditures.

    • Max net price: $6,457
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $9,837
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $27,745
    • Graduation rate: 79%
    • Early-career pay: $54,400
    • Mid-career pay: $99,700
    • # applications: 33213
    • % admitted: 67%
    • # students: 63,813
    • # undergrads: 48,959
    • % retention (full-time): 90%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  9. University of California–Irvine
    Location

    Irvine, CA

    The University of California, Irvine (UCI or UC Irvine) provides students with a somewhat more modest---though still impressive---scope and number of bachelor's programs. With around 80 offerings available, undergraduates can choose from such intriguing options as aerospace engineering, applied physics, art history, computer game science, literary journalism, and neurobiology. The program classifications that award the most degrees are: business/managerial economics, general biology/biological sciences, general political science and government, other public health, and social psychology.

    Along with its fellow UC system schools, UC Irvine is part of a category of colleges/universities called the Public Ivies. Even more than 30 years after being named to this group, it maintains that level of educational quality and status, and also provides students with exceptional value and ROI. Various major ranking lists confirm this. U.S. News & World Report lists UC Irvine as the ninth-best public national university. Forbes, meanwhile, ranks it as the 10th-best value among U.S. colleges. Topping things off is the university's efforts to provide access and opportunities to low-income students. The New York Times' 2015 "College Access Index" has UC Irvine as the best school in the nation for economic diversity.

    • Max net price: $9,925
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $13,252
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $37,960
    • Graduation rate: 88%
    • Early-career pay: $51,900
    • Mid-career pay: $93,900
    • # applications: 71775
    • % admitted: 39%
    • # students: 30,836
    • # undergrads: 25,256
    • % retention (full-time): 93%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission
  10. University of Washington–Seattle Campus
    Location

    Seattle, WA

    Including concentrations and options, the University of Washington--Seattle Campus (UW or UW--Seattle) offers students a choice of around 200 bachelor's programs, covering everything from the arts to social sciences. This includes such majors as community, environment, and planning; digital arts and experimental media; health informatics and health information management; human-centered design and engineering; and oceanography. Some of the most-popular program classifications (by degrees awarded) are biochemistry, general economics, general mathematics, general psychology, and speech communication and rhetoric.

    While UW rates highly in terms of academic quality---it is 16th in U.S. News & World Report's (USNWR's) 2017 top public national universities ranking---its biggest strengths are actually educational access, reputation, research, and social impact. For instance, the university is 13th on The New York Times' 2015 college access/economic diversity rankings. It is 14th on Washington Monthly's 2016 ranking of contributing to the public good. Meanwhile, USNWR's "Best Global Universities Rankings" (which focuses heavily on research) places UW at a very impressive 11th in the world.

    • Max net price: $7,623
    • In-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $11,839
    • Out-of-state tuition (+mandatory fees): $34,143
    • Graduation rate: 84%
    • Early-career pay: $55,100
    • Mid-career pay: $94,200
    • # applications: 36840
    • % admitted: 53%
    • # students: 45,408
    • # undergrads: 31,063
    • % retention (full-time): 94%
    • Campus housing: yes
    • Institutional accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

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