Your Expensive Private College Wasn't a Good Investment

Smart Money finds that that both Ivies and public school are better returns on investment

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In their September issue, Smart Money released its annual, very practical college rankings. They do it by return on tuition investment. While Ivy Leagues did predictably well, the rankings also confirmed the worst stereotypes about non-Ivy league private colleges: they're hideously expensive and, to say it delicately, aren't the greatest investment:

At midcareer, graduates of the schools in this group averaged income of $94,000 a year -- certainly respectable, but 16 percent less than Ivy grads were making and only 6 percent more than that earned by graduates of much cheaper public colleges. As for SmartMoney's Payback Score, this group gets a 79, lowest among our three categories [Non-Ivy Private, The Ivy League and Public Schools].

So non-Ivy private schools aren't cheap enough to be a good financial investment and aren't prestigious enough to reap the rewards that an Ivy League degree can still bestow. And they've already been hit hard by other unflattering lists this year.

In April, after Forbes deemed Sarah Lawrence the "most expensive" college in the nation, the president of the school, Karen Lawrence, wrote an op-ed saying that the $58,716 tuition was "worth every penny." She wrote: "Transformative is a word often used by our alumni to describe their education," referring extensively to faculty attention and customizable education the school offered. Similarly, when the Department of Education rolled out its nifty new website to track college tuition hikes, it named Bates college the most expensive school (a $51,300 price tag per year). Bates officials responded by questioning the online tool's methodology.

As Bates and Sarah Lawrence officials might argue, there's always an upside to their education. Maybe you spent four years in an institution with excellent teacher-to-student ratios, nicer dorm rooms and tightly-knit campus community. Still, if you're a recent grad of a non-ivy private school, that probably doesn't take the sting out of being out-earned by your public school peers who aren't in so much debt.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.