Public colleges whose students earn the most after graduation
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Public colleges whose students earn the most after graduation

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Higher education is a significant investment, and the cost of pursuing an undergraduate degree has grown exponentially over the past few decades. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, one year of undergraduate education today costs about the same as four years of undergraduate education did in 1980. Over the same time period, post-graduation earnings have remained relatively flat after adjusting for inflation. The combination of rising tuition and low wage growth has brought the value of higher education programs into question.


Despite slow wage growth, certain college majors fare better in the labor market. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reveals that the median wage for 22- to 27-year-old bachelor’s degree holders is $40,000 per year, but degrees related to engineering, business, and computer science tend to command far higher salaries. By contrast, graduates of academic programs in the liberal arts, social sciences, and fine arts are likely to earn less than the national median. Similar data from the Department of Education reveals that the median earnings for public, four-year university graduates six years after beginning school is $36,737.


In addition to academic major, another strong indicator of future career earnings is the college that awarded the degree. Earning potential varies significantly by institution. To find which public colleges have the best earnings outcomes for undergraduate students, researchers at Volusion analyzed data for more than 500 public colleges from the U.S. Department of Education. The researchers ordered schools based on the median annual earnings of its employed undergraduate students six years after starting school. For most students, this is between one and two years after graduation. To improve relevance, institutions were grouped into size cohorts based on undergraduate enrollment:

  • Large schools: more than 20,000 students
  • Midsize schools: 5,000 to 20,000 students
  • Small schools: 1,000 to 5,000 students

Among the public colleges analyzed, the most common high-paying degrees were in disciplines related to engineering, computer science, business, and nursing. Here are the public colleges where students earn the most after graduation.


Large Public Schools With the Highest Median Earnings

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15. University of California-San Diego

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $43,400
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer Science ($80,800)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,018
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $42,032
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,000

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14. Rutgers University-New Brunswick

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $44,300
  • Highest-paying degree: Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering ($72,100)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,638
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $30,579
  • Median debt after graduation: $18,750

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13. University of California-Los Angeles

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $44,500
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer and Information Sciences ($102,100)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $13,261
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $41,275
  • Median debt after graduation: $14,385

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12. Purdue University-Main Campus

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $44,800
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer Science ($84,800)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $9,992
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $28,794
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,750

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11. George Mason University

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $44,900
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer Science ($69,400)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $11,924
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $34,370
  • Median debt after graduation: $16,750

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10. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $44,900
  • Highest-paying degree: Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions ($114,900)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,974
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $35,538
  • Median debt after graduation: $12,750

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9. University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $45,000
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer Engineering ($76,900)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,533
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $34,783
  • Median debt after graduation: $18,750

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8. The University of Texas at Austin

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $46,000
  • Highest-paying degree: Chemical Engineering ($78,400)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,398
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $36,744
  • Median debt after graduation: $18,118

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7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $47,100
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer Science ($92,200)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $15,074
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $31,194
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,500

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6. University of Maryland-College Park

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $47,200
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer and Information Sciences ($81,300)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $10,399
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $33,606
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,750

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5. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $48,000
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer and Information Sciences ($83,600)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $13,230
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $31,014
  • Median debt after graduation: $20,500

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4. Texas A & M University-College Station

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $48,600
  • Highest-paying degree: Petroleum Engineering ($81,800)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $11,234
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $36,606
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,000

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3. University of California-Berkeley

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $48,700
  • Highest-paying degree: Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering ($116,600)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,170
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $42,184
  • Median debt after graduation: $12,612

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2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $49,800
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer and Information Sciences ($86,900)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $14,826
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $47,476
  • Median debt after graduation: $15,459

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1. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

  • Median annual earnings after graduation: $52,100
  • Highest-paying degree: Computer and Information Sciences ($115,000)
  • In-state tuition and fees: $9,432
  • Out-of-state tuition and fees: $21,312
  • Median debt after graduation: $17,000

Methodology & Detailed Findings

The public colleges where students command the highest salaries post-graduation are geographically diverse, but those where graduates tend to earn the least are clustered in the Southeast or scattered across the Northwest.

Graduates from public colleges with higher tuition tend to have slightly higher salaries. For example, certain flagship public universities like University of Virginia, University of Massachusetts, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois have above-average in-state tuition, but also above-average earnings. Notable exceptions with low in-state tuition and high salaries are maritime colleges, such as SUNY Maritime College or the California State University Maritime Academy.


One limitation of the Department of Education data is that it only includes wages immediately after graduation. Earnings for some academic programs (for example, pre-med) might start with lower salaries and increase significantly over time. Other factors that could influence a graduate’s salary include employment location, pursuit of an advanced degree, and the industry in which the graduate chooses to work.

Information about school performance was obtained from the U.S. Department of Education’s College ScoreCard data set. Institutions were included if they were main-campus public schools that had more than 1,000 undergraduate students enrolled and predominately awarded bachelor’s degrees. Schools were ranked based on the median income of students six years after graduation, and ties were broken based on the median salary of the highest-paying degree from each school.

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