The Worst Deals on College

worst deals on collegeThere's no denying the fact that college tuition is rising and that education usually comes with some long-term debt. Among bachelor's degree recipients in the for-profit sector, the median total student debt of the 95 percent who borrowed was $32,700, according to the College Board.

What's worse is that degrees from some schools don't guarantee a good chance to pay back those loans. PayScale reviewed nearly 700 colleges and universities to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for tuition -- what you get back for what you spend -- and found that there are a number of schools that aren't worth the cost. That's despite recent findings by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce indicating that those holding a bachelor's degree earn 84 percent more than somebody who has high school degree.

Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at PayScale, explains that though the main financial benefit of attending college is the gain in income, attending college means giving up the four to six years of income that you would earn by going straight to work after high school. For the PayScale survey, he says, "We calculate the gain in median pay over a high school graduate as the difference between the 30-year median pay for a 2010 bachelor's graduate and a weighted 34-to-36-year median pay for a high school graduate."

What's Your Major?

Lee adds, "A major has as large or larger impact on pay than the school. Part of the reason the schools at the bottom of the list are there is because they specialize in preparation for historically underpaid careers: social work, education, etc."

Indeed, last on the list is Shaw University, a private college in Raleigh, N.C., whose divinity school sends many graduates into the ministry. A 2010 graduate's cost to attend was over $98,000, but the average wage for a senior pastor tops out at less than half that, making the return on investment low.

The Cost of Leaving Home

Making a bad college choice may simply be a matter of attending a state school that's not in your home state -- even if you are dying to have the dorm experience. Lee notes, "Paying out-of-state tuition is rarely a smart move. Only a few flagship state university campuses and top-ranked public engineering universities make the top 100 for ROI when paying out-of-state tuition."

The worst offenders? Fayetteville State, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Chicago State (CSU), and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke all cost more than $100,000 in 2010, yet they offered non-resident graduates less than 5 percent annual return on their tuition investment.

Ultimately, says Vadim Gordin, a patent attorney based in New Jersey, those considering any college track should ask themselves a simple question: Will this coursework make me a more valuable employee? "I went to law school with more than a few people that ended up needing a graduate degree to find a job, because their undergraduate education came down on the wrong side of the value equation," says Gordin.

Here are 10 schools with an ROI of less than $3,000 per year more in net earnings over high school grads:

School Name

2010 4-Year Cost 30-Year Net ROI

1. Shaw University

$98,240 $15,480

2. Davenport University

$113,600 $27,790

3. University of North Carolina at Pembrooke (UNCP)

$66,490 $37,540

4. Chicago State University

$100,500 $39,080

5. University of Arkansas - Little Rock (UALR)

$92,310 $41,820

6. Cameron University

$72,760 $44,350

7. Texas Southern University

$84,000 $49,190

8. Grambling State University

$67,340 $50,240

9. Lee University (Cleveland, Tenn.)

$89, 680 $51,100

10. Fayetteville State University

$58,830 $51,570

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ROI is not just about money. It's about the love of learning, too, and the enhancements to your life choices. I'm delighted with the ROI I received from all of the colleges I attended, whatever financial gains be damned. There are more important things in life than working for money. If that's all I was concerned about, I would have become an investment banker back in the 80's.

July 13 2011 at 7:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would be embarassed to put those colleges on my resume. ROI is the most critical issue in selecting a career and college. I would really look at that as a poor investment. The spend your life in a crap job because it is a good investment. Really. You can become president without ever showing your transcripts that is a great ROI, he got a free ride and is still riding.

July 13 2011 at 7:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I for one have never heard of any of these, which makes me guess that it's not surprising how little the students end up making after graduating. College tuition in general is a huge concern. Personally, I loved my 4 year university and have found great success with jobs since graduating 5 years ago. However, I will be in debt for at least another 15 years. The hundreds of dollars I pay each month has merely made a dent in my loan balance thus far and it has been a huge burden on every aspect of my life.

July 13 2011 at 7:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

let's get this straight - most , or all, of these schools are minority based.They were predominantly a deal compared to most legitimate colleges. This gives me 2 thoughts- 1- lousy schools- 2- minorities are not learning perhaps most were admitted to these schools as illiterate! Just an observation-

July 13 2011 at 6:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ROI based only on dollar income vs. dollar costs really is not a fair way to look at the value of a college education. For many, the personal value of the education and its contribution to the quality of their lives is unquantifable but certainly not something to be overlooked in judging the "value" of that education. It only can be judged by the person receiving it. But, having said that, I can't understand how so many students, with full knowledge of the low dollar market value of the majors they are about to undertake, still opt to accept the huge debt coming at the end of the process; debts which their education will be of little help to repay. One only can hope that the intangible value of their four college years helps them cope with the decades of debt with which they will be saddled.

July 13 2011 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Two times Faster

Sometimes it takes more than a degree. Please think outside the box when it comes to finding employment. Companies are hiring people to work at home at entry and professional levels to cut costs. The website BestTopJobs has a FREE list of work at home jobs offered by real employers. Hope this helps!

July 13 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you live in Arkansas and attend UALR you will only pay about $1500 for tuition for the year (30 credit hours). Students get $4500 from the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship fund to apply towards tuition if they have a GPA of 2.5 or an ACT score of 19. I would say that is an excellent value AND no need for a student loan.

July 13 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


July 13 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why didn't Full Sail Make the list? They charged me a $120K for a Bachelors Degree and I make less money now than before going back to school. They should have earned the #1 spot no questions asked!

July 13 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can someone answer if these are all historical black universities?

July 13 2011 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dgutin's comment

Of the four in NC, three are historic black universities and one was developed to serve Lumbee Indians.

July 13 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't even see four colleges on this list that are in NC so the previous poster's comment doesn't make sense to me. The only ones in NC I see are Shaw, Fayetteville, and Pembrooke.

July 13 2011 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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