23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes

One of the biggest concerns about college that students and families have is the costs of attending—and the possible opportunities it could create for their careers. Check out 23 four-year institutions of higher education that have demonstrated both high earnings, as well as low costs for their lowest-income students.

Institution Median Earnings of Students 10 Years After Entering the School Average Net Price for Low-Income Students
Amherst College $56,800 $3,739
Bowdoin College $54,800 $6,731
Brown University $59,700 $6,104
Columbia University in the City of New York $72,900 $5,497
Dartmouth College $67,100 $7,648
Duke University $76,700 $6,280
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus $74,000 $7,875
Hamilton College $57,300 $7,245
Harvard University $87,200 $3,386
Haverford College $55,600 $5,648
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $91,600 $6,733
Massachusetts Maritime Academy $79,500 $7,519
Princeton University $75,100 $5,720
Rice University $59,900 $7,960
Stanford University $80,900 $3,895
Trinity College $56,100 $7,874
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor $57,900 $7,156
University of Pennsylvania $78,200 $6,614
University of Virginia-Main Campus $58,600 $7,007
Vanderbilt University $60,900 $7,147
Washington and Lee University $77,600 $7,663
Williams College $58,100 $8,202
Yale University $66,000 $7,637

This list includes schools in the top 10 percent of predominantly four-year-degree-granting schools for 1) median positive earnings 10 years after beginning at the school and 2) low net price for students receiving federal grants or loans with a family income of $0-$48,000. Net price refers to the net price for in-state students in public institutions. Percentiles were calculated excluding cell sizes less than 30, schools with zero undergraduate degree-seeking students, schools not currently operating, and schools in territories.


  1. How did the Department of Education gain access to a given subject’s “IRS earnings data”?
    How did the Department of Education gain access to a given subject’s “higher education data”?
    Where can one read the methodology for this study?

  2. Website has potential but is full of inaccurate and/or misleading information. In AZ for example, the annual cost variance for ASU, U of A, and NAU is less than $900, not the roughly $4000 you report. Also, what’s the point of using an average wage of graduates of all programs combined? There is wide variance of salaries across major areas of study and this would be far more useful than the data you are currently reporting.

    • It is more useless information put out by the government. How much did it cost and will cost to continue to produce this? How many full scholarships could be awarded for vocational training that actually leads to jobs instead of paying government types to produce this?

    • That is the best question, what majors? How many recreation majors, archeology majors, ethnic/gender studies majors? Free education should be restricted to bona fide career choices. STEM education, business majors, healthcare education, these are real jobs that benefit society and are worth paying taxes to allow them to be offered free. Can the government produce verifiable statistics to support their schedule in the article, Free should come with the cost of actually getting a job based on the education and becoming a solid taxpaying member of society.

  3. I have looked and looked for information for those of us paying full tuition at these great schools but there is no data for us!

  4. Why is “Average Net Price for Low-Income Students” used as a metric here and the average net price for all students used as a metric when comparing public universities? The same metrics should be used for all comparisons to allow interpretability.


  5. The Federal government collects billions of dollars on student loan interest, therefore, it is unconscionable and unethical for the Federal government take any stand on if, where or how students obtain higher education. The governments hand in this dataset renders the output as non-transparent.
    As with most aspects of citizenry, the government does not think the public is intelligent enough to find this data from credible, unbiased sources, so the socialists quietly try to affect the outcome through selected statistics, outlying data and flat out lies. Do not trust government. They only take care of the elite that run the government.

  6. Not all schools are crazy expensive once your outside the subsidized tuition. Mass Maritime Academy is affordable whatever your situation is for one.

  7. These comparisons make no sense. Are we looking at median earnings of low income graduates to median cost of education for low income graduates? If the current comparison is median earnings of all graduates, then the comparison is useless. I am also curious to know the cost of education for a middle class student and 10 year median earnings as well as a similar comparison for the upper class. My hunch is that highest average earnings remain predominantly with those who were wealthy before college; these students also likely graduated debt free and didn’t have to work their way through school.

    • Rasa is right to be confused. The report does not make it clear who is included in the sample and how the information was gathered. My understanding from reading a newspaper article is that the report includes data ONLY on those students receiving Federal income based aid as an undergraduate, and the income figures are based ONLY on those same students 10 years after they started school. It is in no way reflective of what the average student did from that school. I think every release of the report should define its scope better than is being done.

    • All these comparison are useless when you can not get a job unless it is the Stem field and your income is not much higher that someone with a 2 year degree . Most colleges are now buisnesses and most monies are put into the archtecture . If you can one should study in Germany – it is free and many degrees are now in English and all you pay is for cost of living .

  8. I do think this is great information for parents and students to better be able to make informed decisions. Information is power

  9. Our federal government should take a second reading of Darrel Huff’s 1954 classic _How to Lie with Statistics_. Chapter 1 would be a good place to start.

  10. I have not examined the technical report on which these rankings were based,but my hypothesis would be that the rankings in most categories will look like standardized tests scores: correlate positively with family income and ethnicity

  11. I have not examined the technical papers on which these rankings were made but just looking at the colleges on this list(elite), I would offer the hypothesis that the Scorecard is going to look like standardized test scores:following family income and race.

  12. Most of these schools have low enrollment so and the costs cover tuition, not room&aboard and fraternity and soriety expenses where friendships that lead to higher income are made, this is just high priced government window dressing, taken from other sources

  13. These are among the most selective schools in the country. This is useful for the top 1% of students. What about the other 99%?

  14. How about showing the average net price for all students? With two kids in college, it costs us over 25 thousand per year per kid. Please stop cherry picking the data!

  15. Title should be 23 ultra selective schools who subsidize lowest income students. This list helps maybe 1 in 1000 students. What about the other 99.99 percent of students? Useless.

    • Would certainly be more informative if it showed the percentage of low income students attending these prestigious schools and the average SAT scores necessary to attend these schools.
      In my opinion, this subset is just very deceiving, almost to the point of being useless.

  16. This is an outstanding service by the United States government to the people of the United States. As a grandfather, I thank you on behalf of my five grandchildren and all future college students.

  17. Is the “net price” per annum or per 4 years? What exactly does the “net price” include (e.g. tuition, books, room and board)?

  18. These are some of the most expensive schools in the country. Most are completely unaffordable for middle class families who don’t get nearly as many scholarships, grants and financial aid. How about a cost/benefit list for schools that are actually accessible to the middle class?

  19. There has never been any doubt that a really bright student who goes to a school that does not charge them will be successful!

    But how many poor kids went to these U’s?

    Also, what about the average person in terms of payback? Society seems to be over-investing in college. There seems to be some hope that college will solve problems that it cannot–the poor getting good jobs, African Americans getting good jobs!

    • I think the rationale behind releasing this data is to ignite a conversation about how to get more from our investment in college. No one is suggesting that college is the solution for all of society’s ills. Your taxes pay for huge government subsidies to these schools. As such, this data should be out in the open. Families can use this data to help them make better decisions with their $.

  20. I’m not sure this type of data helps; in fact, examining this type of isolated data could potentially mislead a great deal of students.

    First, these “low cost” universities are only truly low in cost if a family earns below around $75,000.

    For example, MIT (per their website) estimates the full cost of attendance (tuition +room/board + books/personal expenses) at $59,500. Yet the average need-based scholarship was $34,500 and only 56% of students were awarded a need-based scholarship. So 44% of students were required to pay $59,500 a year, while the rest were, on average, required to pay $25,000 per year. Yes, MIT could cost $6,733 a year, but only if your family reports an income lower than $75,000.

    More important to consider is how these median earning who calculated. What would have been helpful would be to provide the median incomes (10 years after entering) for these same low-income students, not the “general population”, because arguably, they are anything but general. Using MIT as a reference, 44% of students are paying full-fare ($59,000) per year. That means their families are paying out around $5K per month for 48 months. Or, for many, they’ve accrued half of that amount in a college savings account and will pay upwards of $2,500 per month for 48 months. And that is for only ONE college-bound child.

    The truth is, many of these students – the one paying full fare – come from highly-successful families earning in the top 2-3% income bracket. These are the students who “intern” at their father’s firm over the summer, who’s mother’s friend runs a boutique investment firm, who’s uncle is partner at a successful software engineering company.

    Money produces money. These numbers are dramatically skewed by the graduates of upper-class families and by middle-class graduates pursuing careers in STEM (a field underrepresented by minority and low-income students).

    So don’t put too much weight in the numbers – I assure you, examine the Median Earnings 10 Years After Entering of low-income students and they’ll paint an entirely different story.

    I’m not advocating low-income students don’t pursue these excellent institutions of higher education. But I do encourage students to examine these numbers with a grain of salt. The truth is, if you’re a low-income student studying humanities at UPENN, you’re not likely to make the $78,200 they advertise.

    Still, I applaud the government and this website for beginning to encourage the much-needed transparency of the true cost (and benefit) of higher education. Great start!

  21. Can you please add a footnote or location where one can go to find details on the data and analyses completed. For example, what was the source of graduates salaries, what was the sample size at each institution, and are all salaries reported for the same year of graduates, say 2004 graduates? thank you.

  22. It would be great to have income data that is specific to undergraduate students only as opposed to “predominantly 4-year degrees.” If the incomes of medical and law students are included in the 10-year medians, they may not reflect the undergraduate outcomes.

  23. So, you may ask, what are the chances that a student can claim a seat in the freshman class of one of these (admittedly fine) institutions? I did a little quick math, dividing the approximate number of seats in the combined freshman classes by the approximate number of students taking the SAT or ACT (and thus aspiring to a selective college), and the number is…drumroll… well under 2%. Not to take anything away from these particular schools (one of which I teach at), but, honestly, promoting them like this will do little other than increase their selectivity even more. I will save my rank about the foolishness of equating education with earnings for another post.

  24. Wow!!!

    Pretty much crap in this blog post. And the links don’t work. (You have to remove the “www.” but you might want to TEST the links too!)

    What great advice. And exactly HOW MANY lucky ducks will be able to avail themselves of this WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY. (The Student Body section tells what portion of the student body makes under the low income bar). And the SAT score section tells the expected standardized test results range.

    There are 266 slots for students that are low SES and don’t have elite math scores on the SATs.

    Of course, there is the problem with the methodology — does the causation run from demographics to salary (High SES/Good conections –> Good Job) or from (Education –> Good job).

    There are less than 22,400 slots for low SES students from these 23 schools. Take away the four public schools provide forty percent of thes slots, ~ 9,200 students) and you have 19 elite schools with 13,150 spaces.

    There is exactly one school on the list that doesn’t have SAT scores at the VERY high end of the range. Massachusetts Maritime Academy admits 19% low-SES or 266 students. Their SAT score range for the math portion of the SAT 500-600. (Half the admitted students have scores between the lower and upper ranges and the remaining 50% are half below the lower or above the higher range). The only other school with math lower range score below 600 is Trinity, which provides 270 low SES slots. (UVA’s lower bound is 630; every other school has a lower bound for Math of 650 or higher).

  25. In the 23 schools, how is net price for public schools revelant to schools that are private 4 year? What is the net cost for the privates?

  26. I think this website is great in terms of what it’s trying to do. It’s also very easy to use but what I would like to see is the costs without financial aid being factored in. Many of the students that take out loans and pay for their own college are not eligible for need based financial aid so it would be nice to see the costs to those students without netting the aid. I think some of the numbers would be a lot different at certain schools. For example, Columbia is great in terms of giving aid but when you look at the cost to someone who has to pay back all loans with interest.

  27. What does “net” refer to in regard to four year school? Is that price per semester, year, or all four years? maybe I ,issued that. I’m a high school teacher and would like to be clear on this before I talk to my students. Love the idea of this site! wish We had this when I was selecting colleges.
    Thanks for all the effort and research that went into this. Also including the 2 years, excellent work!

  28. This is a misleading information, students end up paying thousands of dollars for the loans that will make more rich to those greedy millionaires. Not need to say those interest that will make the students life miserable for ever.

    • I totally agree with this point focusing on the “loans” variable that makes this study’s conclusions regarding the “low average net costs for students” totally vague and misleading. Loans are big costs for students! What is gained if a low income student gets accepted at an exclusive Ivy League school yet graduates with a $150,000+ loan bill after 4 years?

  29. I think adding a statistic of percent of grads who complete or are in medical school, PHDs, other professional schools 10 years after college would make this even better.

    Also adding a statistic of salary after 10 years excluding those in graduate programs or training programs (e.g. medical residency) would be great because these students earn little but will likely have very high earnings after their training is complete.

    Finally, salary at 20 years or 25 years would be even more informative if you have the data.

    I think this site is genius – government at work.

    • NM re the first two points. In the data set you have the percentage of people who have completed graduate degrees. You also do exclude those in graduate school or in training. Nice job.

  30. Please. These schools admit a very small percentage of students who apply. Let’s be realistic for more kids who work hard but get b’s and c’s.

  31. I think that this website provides very little value to users. It does not list the true cost of college (does not list out-of-state tuition cost, other fees, room and board, books, per diem, etc.). Furthermore, “23 four-year schools with low costs that lead to high incomes” listed, are all out of range for “low income” students, in that it still might not be affordable for them (e.g. even tuition as low as $6000.00 might still be unaffordable for some families, depending on their family size and number of students attending college).
    School acceptance rates are not listed (the average student is not going get into the 23 schools listed). Also the salaries for people in that major, are not listed (e.g. when you search for schools that offer a particular major, the search tells us the average salary for all graduates, not just for that major). Graduation rates in a particular major should be listed.
    The college board website is better at reporting important information about college.
    What might be more beneficial to users of your college scorecard site, is to include a “What-if” scenario facility: where users can enter any demographic information, and the system will send back results based on the demographic profile.

  32. How does it help poor kids who are not quite Ivy League quality? Where is the continuation of this list to schools like Rochester Institute of Technology and the many fine four year colleges of the New York and California state systems?

  33. Your category of “Average net price…” does not specify whether this is per year or four years or ??? Should always specify the UNITS carefully.

  34. Until a study uses linear regression to negate two items — major, and cost of living (salaries adjusted for employment location), calling this an analysis of schools isn’t accurate. It skews the data towards tech and business-only schools to some degree.

  35. How do you define low income? Is the average net price on a per year basis?

    Having the definitions on this page would be really helpful!


  36. The site would be much more useful if it allowed a direct comparison of up to 6 or more Colleges or Universities.

  37. Why is The College of the Ozarks not mentioned? Students all have on campus, programs related jobs that cover all of their fees, so with your approach the cost is $0.00? Clearly you are missing many great such opportunities!! Therefore, your study is flawed and perhaps can be easily corrected. David Rine, Professor Emeritus – discipline is engineering.

  38. I still feel that middle income parents Are not considered yet. I have not looked at the entire site but it still is better for the student in middle income to work after high school and become low income qualified. Then they lose that motivation to continue their education

  39. would like to know how the data was sampled and the number of students polled per school. Great start, anxious to see more universities and their income rankings per degree major.

Comments are closed.