Georgetown CEW
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Georgetown CEW

Include ROI in Revamped College Rankings

By Anthony P. Carnevale

College is often the first major financial investment that young people make, and their choice of degree and field of study can influence their lifetime earnings. But as a recent Los Angeles Times editorial points out, picking a college is bewildering for too many students and their families.

These days, we wouldn’t buy a car without checking Kelley Blue Book first. What if it were possible to comparison shop for colleges too? The US Department of Education’s College Scorecard publishes data on graduates’ debt and earnings at thousands of programs across the country. Based on these data, our rankings by return on investment (ROI) enable students and their families to readily compare outcomes, with some surprising results. For example, workers with an associate’s degree in nursing from Santa Rosa Junior College in California can earn more in their first year after graduation than graduate degree holders from some programs at Harvard University.

ROI is just one factor for students and their families to consider as they make the all-important college decision. Students should also take into account their academic goals and interests, their future career opportunities, and other factors. But given the rising cost of college, ROI is a good place to start.

Dr. Carnevale is the director and research professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. CEW is a research and policy institute within Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the links among education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.

Thanks to Kathryn Peltier Campbell, Katherine Hazelrigg, and Emma Wenzinger for editorial feedback; Johnna Guillerman and Fan Zhang for graphic design; and Sojung Ha for publication support.

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