People go to college to learn and fulfill their passions, but they also slog for four years to increase their earning power. When you're evaluating colleges, are you prioritizing the kind of student life you'll have as an undergrad, or are you looking for places that will ensure you make more money than the average high school graduate? Price-to-earnings calculations give us an idea of the schools that don't seem to give students a good return on their investment of money and time. We would caution you not to write off colleges, including the ones listed below, in no particular order, without understanding contextual factors. In addition, consider that individuals with degrees from liberal arts colleges often catch up to STEM graduate earnings by age 40.

ECPI University

ECPI University in Virginia Beach doesn't have a great rep regarding value for money. This college looks like a bad decision at an estimated $19k per year after aid and with a debt burden that will likely be over $35k (more than your projected earnings)—research alternatives before you commit.

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Columbia College Chicago

At around $30k per year after aid, it's not a stretch to say that this college's fees are about as high as Chicago's skyscrapers, especially if you consider that your loan repayments are basically on par with the amount you'll be making in a few years. Accommodation costs are through the roof, too, so you might want to cast your net wider.

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Tyler Junior College

Tyler Junior College in Texas is affordable—the average cost per year after aid is $11,000. But it has a 19% graduation rate which is concerning, and if you go here, don't expect to earn above the national average. Of course, this means paying back borrowed money is a significant challenge and explains why graduates have an 18% loan default rate.

Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Florida Memorial University

This historically black college produces a lot of grads who go on to pursue careers in criminal justice and social work, which are highly-valued fields but often not well-rewarded ones. Florida Memorial does not crack Forbes' list of the top 650 colleges in America, so overall you could improve your ROI.

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Utah Tech University

Formerly known as Dixie State University, this college in the Beehive State looks like a good deal at first glance. After all, the fees don't look too bad at $14k for out-of-state students. And 85% of graduates are employed two years after they don their gowns and receive certificates. But median earnings after six years are around $35k.

Dixie State University


University of Maine, Presque Isle

Whether you live in-state or out of state, this college offers a poor return on your investment. Many of the students who leave this campus go on to become teachers. Sadly, the individuals who do some of the most important work in the country don't earn salaries that reflect their critical roles in society. The Augusta campus doesn't bode well, either.


Berklee College of Music

So you've got music in your bones and rhythm in your blood, and you want to formalize your relationship with music. Studying at a school like this one in Massachusetts may seem like just the path to take. Brace yourself. The fees are crazy high, and loan repayments cross the $50k threshold. Good luck finding a job that pays decently enough to survive, let alone haul yourself out of debt.

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Missouri Southern State University

Upon first sight, the cost of tuition at this college looks promising at under $10k. You might, however, ask yourself what the real cost is. Well, after six years in the wilderness of the employed, you won't be making much more than about thirty grand. Doesn't look particularly promising now, does it?


University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe

Formerly known as Sierra Nevada University, this college has a hefty per-year price tag of $31k. And median earnings six years down the road are just over $40k. You could do better for that fee out of state, so scour lists of best-value colleges and do the math.


Brookline College

The outlook isn't great at this college in New Mexico, and that's putting it lightly. Fees are incredibly high, with an average cost of about $31,000 after aid, and six years after graduating, you'll be making around $11,000 less than the national average. Ouch! And that's not even the worst part—prepare yourself for over 50k worth of debt.

Brookline College


Johnson and Wales University

A degree from Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island does not come cheap—it's around $28k after aid. And even though you will earn slightly above the national average in the short to medium term, the debt burden can be painful. Some former students also complain that their degrees don't adequately equip them for the job market.

Kenneth C. Zirkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Southern New Hampshire University

The annual cost is eye-watering at this college. You're looking at about $43K after financial aid kicks in, which is practically double what you'll pay elsewhere. But what's the payoff like? Six years after you toss your grad cap in the air, you'll earn around $45,400. Still, this isn't enough to make former students feel better about their looming debt.

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Goddard College

You won't get much bang for your buck at this Vermont school. Costs per year are currently $24K after you factor in financial aid, and half a decade later, alumni generally earn approximately $25,400 per year. They also incur large amounts of debt compared to high-school-only grads with similar salaries. Red flag alert.

Goddard College


The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Going to an art school is a risky business, and that's because they often cost staggering amounts only for a few students to go on and do big things. Payscale research suggests that after 30 years, most students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh may notice a negative return on their investment.

Tony Webster / Flickr


Additional contenders

Again, do your research to see whether these colleges may, in fact, be a good fit for you compared to your other choices. Additional schools that rank poorly for value include but are not limited to:

  • University of South Carolina, Aiken
  • University of Montevallo in Alabama
  • Grambling State University in Louisiana
  • Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky
  • Shaw University and Fayetteville State University in North Carolina
  • CUNY Medgar Evers College in New York
  • Black Hills State University in South Dakota

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