It’s no secret that attending an American college is an expensive decision. For those understandably looking for a return on their tuition fee investment, perhaps these are the colleges to avoid...
30. The University of Montana Western – Dillon, Montana: $-53,200
Although this college places at the better end of our list, for students of The University of Montana Western, their future is not looking as bright as their snowy, white Montana educational setting.
The school sells itself on its small 1,500 undergraduate student base. Unfortunately, it appears its boast-worthy statistics stop there. According to Payscale, the 49% of students that graduate can expect to receive a Return on Investment (ROI) of $-53,200 20 years after graduating.
29. Converse College - Spartanburg, South Carolina: $-61,200
Converse College "empowers students to become transformative leaders who decide wisely." Unfortunately, it seems its students will have already failed this mission upon entry into the college gates. Ironically, Converse's ROI figures suggest attending this college usually is not the wisest decision for its students.
According to Payscale, the cost of tuition is $138,000, and the 58% of students that graduate will see a $-61,200 ROI. In 2021, the College rebranded to become Converse College and accepted male students for the first time since 1890 - perhaps all an attempt to distract prospective students from its low ROI.
28. Hollins University - Hollins, Virginia: $-63,800
The all-female Hollins University has some awesome traditions dating back over 100 years. A student favorite is Tinker Day which takes place on a secret day in October. Classes are canceled to allow students, faculty, and staff to climb nearby Tinker Mountain while wearing colorful and silly costumes.
These activities may appeal to students on the hunt for the ultimate outdoor adventure, but they seemingly don't work as career-building experiences. Payscale records that although an impressive 66% of the students will graduate, they will receive a $-63,800 twenty-year ROI. Perhaps not worth breaking a sweat for.
27. Texas College – Tyler, Texas: $-62,600
With the motto "Give The People Light, and They Will Find Their Way," Texas College really put its foot in its mouth. Starting with the noblest of intentions, to provide an education "for a group of disenfranchised individuals in the area of east Texas," the school has undoubtedly given people light. But have they found their way?
Perhaps they have not. Shockingly, according to Payscale, only 12% of its students graduate! That is the lowest graduation rate on our list. And for those who graduate, the statistics don't get much better. After 20 years, their ROI is $-62,600. Their motto is perhaps promising false hope.
26. Rust College – Holly Springs, Mississippi: $-71,300
For Mississippi students choosing between Rust College and Mississippi State University, Rust is undoubtedly the wiser choice in terms of their return on investment. However, that's hardly a win for Rust College, whose ROI is also deeply in the minus.
Founded in 1866, Rust College is a historically Black, liberal arts college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. It may be rich in history, but its alumni are rarely overwhelmed by financial wealth. In fact, according to Payscale, with tuition fees of $66,000 and an ROI of $-71,300, they're likely to be buried in debt.
25. The University of Montevallo State – Montevallo, Alabama: $-72,600
This university is Alabama's only public liberal arts college. Still, for $156,000, Alabama high school graduates may be better off going out of state in the hunt for a liberal arts education. For those not scared off by the price tag alone, perhaps the return on investment figure will be more of a push factor.
According to Payscale, the twenty-year return on investment for The University of Montevallo State alumni stands at about $-72,600. For those who tirelessly defend the importance of a liberal arts education, this doesn't seem to be helping their case.
24. Florida Memorial University – Miami Gardens, Florida: $-74,200
The FMU Lions are more lion-like in their spirit than in their 'king of the jungle' status. Although we admire their passion for providing "a quality education to students who may not otherwise receive one," as well as their commitment to giving back to their surrounding community, they're hardly kings of the ROI leaderboard.
The only Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in South Florida charges its students $117,000 in return for what they call a promising future. Unfortunately for the Florida Memorial graduates, Payscale estimates that this future calls for a $-74,200 return on their investment.
23. The University of South Carolina Aiken – Aiken, South Carolina: $-76,100
The Aiken Campus of the University of South Carolina System has a stellar reputation for its graduate and undergraduate educational programs. In fact, the school has been ranked multiple times by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 3 regional public colleges in the South.
This school, however, is the perfect example of why looking at a college's ROI is often more worthwhile than examining its rankings. For those looking to make money off their college degree, this school is likely not the one. According to Payscale, this top-ranking education costs $138,000, and the average ROI is $-76,100.
22. Claflin University – Orangeburg, South Carolina: $-81,200
Claflin University's impressive alumni list includes two of the first black women in the world to receive college degrees. It also recently placed third among 10 HBCUs with the highest four-year graduation rates among first-time, full-time students on the U.S. News and World Report.
With its impressive history and rankings, this school holds a lot of promise for its students. Unfortunately, according to Payscale, as seen by its negative ROI of $-81,200, this promise is largely unfulfilled. Students who have paid $132,000 for their education are not seeing this investment pay off.
21. Saint Augustine’s University – Raleigh, North Carolina: $-83,500
Their motto may be "the truth will set you free," but ironically, the truth is that this college degree is far from free. Moreover, with its negative return on investment, Saint Augustine's University students will hardly be free from debt - even after 20 years.
Statistics provided by Payscale show that with tuition fees as high as $129,000, the 16% minority of students who manage to graduate will receive a $-83,500 return on investment. With these facts, it's unlikely SAU students will feel anything but trapped in economic decline.
20. Emory & Henry College – Emory, Virginia: $-83,900
In stark contrast to the very successful Emory University, which according to Payscale, boasts a 90% graduation rate and a $513,000 twenty-year ROI, Emory & Henry College has some catching up to do. They may have similar names, but these colleges could not be more different in the financial futures they offer their students.
This private liberal arts college in Virginia is the oldest higher learning institution in Southwest Virginia. Disappointingly, experience does not always equal skills as, according to Payscale, students can expect an ROI of $-83,900. Perhaps not worth the $199,000 tuition fees, to say the least.
19. Unity College – Unity, Maine: $-87,900
Sometimes we are forced to choose between being economically efficient and environmentally friendly, and never has this payoff been more apparent than for the students of Unity College. Labeling itself as 'America's Environmental College,' this school offers environmental education for all ages.
Claiming to commit to sustainability in every single thing they do, begs the obvious question. How sustainable are its alumni's salaries? According to Payscale, this is where the college falls short. With a university education worth $165,000, students can expect a crushing $-87,900 return on their investment after 20 years.
18. Paine College – Augusta, Georgia: $-88,800
It's been a painful time for Paine College, so we will try to cut them some slack. Due to financial issues, in 2016, the institution had its regional accreditation revoked by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Sadly, the bad news doesn't end there for Paine College students.
According to Payscale, students who hand over $103,000 for their non-accredited tuition have a 13% chance of graduation and will receive a $-88,800 return on their investment. The state of Georgia may offer some of the greatest mountains in the country, but these students are likely to leave with a mountain of debt.
17. Wilson College – Chambersburg, Pennsylvania: $-91,600
Despite being named after its first major donor, Sarah Wilson, Payscale's statistics suggest this college is hardly shaping its students to be its future donors. Universities often rely heavily on the donations of their alumni who wish to give back to the institution that shaped them.
With an estimated 20 year $-91,600 return on investment for the 64% of students that graduate, Wilson College alumni will hardly have spare cash lying around to donate to their education provider. On the contrary, after the $156,000 the students pay for tuition, it seems the former students are the ones in need of a donation.
16. Benedict College – Columbia, South Carolina: $-94,500
This school stands out from the rest of the colleges on this list simply because it is located in a large city and is home to a comparatively large student body. However, as reportedly only 24% of students graduate, the phrase "more isn't always better" comes to mind.
According to Payscale, this tragic statistic is exacerbated by the fact that these graduates will receive a $-94,500 twenty-year ROI after paying $121,000 in tuition fees. With its history as a teaching school, this college doesn't boast the best track record.
15. Martin Luther College – New Ulm, Minnesota: $-95,900
The mission of Martin Luther College is to prepare men and women for service as teachers and staff ministers in the synod's churches, schools, and other institutions. For those wishing to carry out God's will, a $104,000 payment is required for the necessary training and compulsory on-campus living.
Sadly, it seems the religious alumni of Martin Luther College should not expect to see their reward bestowed on them in this world. On the contrary, it's likely to be the ultimate test of faith when Payscale records their 20-year ROI at $-95,900. To each their own, though.
14. Columbia International University – Columbia, South Carolina: $-103,300
Sadly for its students, Columbia International University is not the international version of the famous Columbia University in New York. In fact, other than the name, Payscale suggests the two schools have very little in common, especially regarding students' financial payouts.
For a $303,000 tuition fee, 95% of students at Columbia University in New York can expect to graduate and go on to receive an impressive $765,000 ROI. Students attending Columbia International University may pay 50% cheaper tuition fees, but they are 50% less likely to graduate. Payscale estimates their ROI at $-103,300.
13. Shaw University – Raleigh, North Carolina: $-104,400
It's almost a sure thing that if a student attends Shaw University, they can expect an unfavorable return on their $118,000 tuition fee investment. Even more, it's not always a sure thing that its students will finish their studies as, according to Payscale, only 17% of students will graduate!
For the dedicated students that manage to beat the odds and receive their degree, Payscale predicts their average ROI after twenty years to be $-104,400. That's hardly reassuring statistics to work towards! Perhaps that explains the graduation rate...
12. Stillman College – Tuscaloosa, Alabama: $-111,400.
Stillman College claims to be "Preparing You For A Different World." If this 'regular' world of which they talk is one in which university graduates go on to make good money based on their higher-level education, they are seemingly keeping to their promise.
For those students willing to hand over $97,400 in tuition fees, they face the first hurdle of a 27% graduation rate. After that, Payscale notes that the 20-year net ROI for Stillman College graduates is $-111,400. It appears the Stillman Alumni are not bringing in the big bucks.
11. Johnson University – Kimberlin Heights, Tennessee: $-119,800
Seemingly, no one has informed these smiley Johnson University graduates of the debt they will likely face as a result of their choice to attend this Tennessee College. These graduates may be part of the 63% of students to graduate - but unfortunately, this might be as much as there is to smile about.
According to Payscale, Johnson University graduates will pay $103,000 in tuition fees. After graduating and leaving this small town of just 1395 people, they will go on to receive a disappointing $-119,800 on their investment after twenty years. That's sure to turn those smiles upside down.
10. Cazenovia College – Cazenovia, New York: $-120,100
Their slogan may be "where real-life learning meets real-life success," but the statistics suggest otherwise. In exchange for a pricey $203,000, Cazenovia students understandably assume they will receive a high-level education resulting in a financially stable career.
But for the 58% of students that graduate, this does not seem to be the case. In this case, the high risk does not equal a large award as the average return on investment, according to Payscale, can be as low as $-120,100. That doesn't sound too encouraging.
9. Montserrat College of Art – Beverly, Massachusetts: $-120,200
Students of Montserrat College may feel special as one of only 400 students on campus. But in actual fact, the small student body is perhaps a result of unpopularity rather than exclusivity. One look at the ROI statistics for this college, and students are likely to be searching elsewhere for a place to build their art careers.
Seeking a career in the arts is an admirable yet risky choice, as finding wealth in the art industry is a well-known struggle. For the artistic Montserrat alumni who paid tuition fees of $194,000, they're even more unlikely to receive a financial return. According to Payscale, their ROI stands at $-120,200.
8. St. Andrew’s University – Laurinburg, North Carolina: $-120,200
Not to be confused with the university of the same name in the idyllic mountains of Scotland and attended by the Royals, this North Carolina university still has something to offer. With a lake running through and a gorgeous pond, students can learn in a beautiful campus in the small town of Laurinburg.
But good things don't always come in small packages. As stated by Payscale, after leaving SAU, students face student debts of $173,000, and with a 20 year ROI rate of $-120,200, it doesn't seem to be the smartest investment. It looks like they may need a St. Andrews Knight in shining armor to save their bank accounts.
7. Brewton-Parker College – Mount Vernon, Georgia: $-135,500
Situated in the small, quiet town of Mount Vernon in Georgia, Brewton-Parker promises its students a calm, peaceful college experience, where the student body makes up almost half of the town's population. Does this quiet education help to guarantee a loud salary in the future?
Payscale suggests not. Students at BPC pay $128,000 for this unique, tranquil experience and, after twenty years, will likely see a $-135,500 return on this investment. To make matters worse, only 20% of students usually graduate! Perhaps Mount Vernon is a better vacation spot than a career-building hub.
6. Lindsey Wilson College – Columbia, Kentucky: $-161,400
Lindsey Wilson College may have been set up to convert students into educators, but it is now a school better known for its part in training today's young successful athletes. Going by the overarching name, The Blue Raiders, the college is home to many competitive teams, including basketball, football, and baseball.
Those students, however, who are not attending the school for an athletic education, are unlikely to find the same success after graduation. The total tuition cost for the four years is $160,000, and only 38% make it to the graduation ceremony. According to Payscale, the ROI is largely in the minus at $-161,400.
5. Mississippi Valley State University – Itta Bena, Mississippi: $-162,000
Mississippi Valley State University's impressive alumni list includes some of the top NFL and NBA players, past and present - a compelling motivation for students to join their athletics teams. The university also has a pretty successful marching band, which helps to put them on the map.
However, these impressive facts were not enough for the school to avoid placing on this list. Apparently, those who graduate from MVSU and go onto successful careers are limited in number, despite what they may say. Payscale notes their tuition fees can be up to $80,300 and lists their ROI at $-162,000.
4. Morris College – Sumter, South Carolina: $-178,000
Founded in 1908, its motto continues to be “Intrare Libris, Dispartire Servire.” In English, this translates into "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve." The high school graduates certainly enter the College with the hopes of learning. The statistics, however, suggest that a degree from Morris College does not serve these students well.
Students usually face tuition costs of $103,000 for a five-year education, and only a startlingly low 25% of students will eventually graduate. Payscale notes that after 20 years of being in the workforce, this investment turns into a return of $-178,000.
3. Maine College of Art – Portland, Maine: $-183,700
Maine College of Art, MECA, is a much-sought-after school for passionate art lovers in New England. Located in one of the top 10 art towns in the country, Portland, it promises its students an art-enriched life - on and off-campus. But what is to come when the four years in Portland are up?
Unfortunately, it appears that these artistic experiences do not translate into long-term success in the arts. According to Payscale, the students who have paid $199,000 for this creative education will usually see a 20-year return on investment of $-183,700.
2. Voorhees College – Denmark, South Carolina: $-192,500
A historically black college located in the center of South Carolina, Voorhees College currently educates 600 lucky students in twelve different subjects. Well, lucky is a generous word - after paying $105,000 for their four-year education, will they see a return on this investment? The answer is probably not.
According to Payscale, the ROI on this large payout is unfortunately not looking great at $-192,500, and that's if they're in the lucky 41% of students to graduate within 4-6 years. Yikes. What college could possibly top this and find themselves at no.1 on this list?
1. Talladega College – Talladega, Alabama: $-225,400
This private college might be Alabama's oldest, private, historically black liberal arts college, but older is not always wiser. According to Payscale, with 34% of their students making it to graduation after paying $97,000 for the four-year tuition, Talladega college officially has the worst 20-year ROI in the country.
On the bright side, if this were a list of the best college marching bands, they may have had a chance on the top of the leader board. Their band 'The Great Tornado' performed at the 2017 U.S. presidential inauguration parade and half-time for the New Orleans Saints. Impressive Stuff.