The Best Value Public Colleges in the U.S.
College is increasingly expensive. Private school tuition averages more than $35,000 a year, according to the College Board, and even public universities have seen an increase in tuition over time. How do you know that your big tuition bill will be worth it in the end?
If you hope to get through four years of higher education with your finances intact, here are the top 15 four-year public colleges in the United States that won’t break the bank, according to Niche.
Niche’s efforts to find the “most affordable colleges for the best return on investment” ranked the schools on 14 factors, including average net price and median earnings six years after graduation.
15. California State University Maritime Academy
Net price: $14,599 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $79,000 per year
Popular majors: Marine Science, Mechanical Engineering Technician, Business
This maritime academy is located in the San Francisco Bay area, with all the opportunities the location offers. The relatively low price tag (for California public schools) makes it a great value, especially when you consider the potential salary. The starting salary of graduates is right around $75,400.
As with other maritime academies, STEM and business are emphasized by students. This university is one of the few in which 100 percent of students are confident they’ll find a job in their field after graduation. On top of that, 95 percent of graduates are employed two years after finishing.
14. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Net price: $19,002 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $63,100 per year
Popular majors: Business, Biology, Mechanical Engineering
Cal Poly is well known and is considered a top public university. However, the price tag is fairly steep. As a result, it’s no surprise that the popular majors tend to be STEM related or focus on business. In order to get a solid return on investment from the school, you need a good-paying job when you finish.
On the plus side, though, 90 percent of students feel confident in their ability to get a job in their major field, and 94 percent of graduates are employed within two years of finishing school. The campus life is also highly rated, with San Luis Obispo known for its relaxed pace and proximity to wineries and beautiful California scenery.
13. University of California, Berkeley
Net price: $18,178 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $61,800 per year
Popular majors: Economics, Cellular Biology, Computer Science
The University of California is another well-known system of public universities, and the Berkeley location is the flagship campus. There’s a lot of access to culture and city amenities, and the name recognition that comes from attending can make the price tag worth it.
However, the return on investment with this school isn’t as high as you’ll see with some of the others. It’s still not bad, though. According to Niche, 87 percent of graduates have jobs within two years of graduation.
12. SUNY Maritime College
Net price: $16,291 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $76,700 per year
Popular majors: Mechanical Engineering, Marine Science, Business Support Services
The State University of New York system is known for its good value in public education, and SUNY Maritime College is no exception. This college is located in the Bronx, offering you access to the amenities of the city. Even with the high cost of living, though, attending this school can be worth the cost.
After graduation, 92 percent of students are employed, and the starting salary is fairly solid, at $59,200. As expected, there is a strong emphasis on maritime science and other STEM offerings, but there is also a solid business presence and opportunities in other majors.
11. Missouri University of Science & Technology
Net price: $14,133 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $67,100 per year
Popular majors: Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Information Science
Located in Rolla, Missouri, this school is fairly small and has an emphasis on STEM. This emphasis is probably why the college is one of the best values. With an engineering degree, you can get a solid return on your investment in a relatively short period of time.
In fact, 98 percent of students feel confident that they’ll find work in their field of study after graduation. Paying the price tag is worth it if you can find a good job out of school and start earning money.
10. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Net price: $16,408 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $60,100 per year
Popular majors: Business, Research and Experimental Psychology, Information Science
According to Niche, this is the top public university in America. Your return on investment after attending the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is pretty solid, especially if you decide to go into a field like psychology or business.
The graduation rate is high, and 93 percent of those that finish are employed two years after graduation. Plus, the campus life receives high marks for the atmosphere, food and experience. It’s a great place to truly enjoy the college experience while getting a good education.
9. College of William & Mary
Net price: $17,415 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $55,400 per year
Popular majors: Business, Political Science and Government
Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the College of William & Mary is among the top 10 public universities in America. It’s also known for its focus on liberal arts, and the fact that you can get a liberal arts job with a reasonable salary when you finish.
Getting into this school can be a little tough, though, with an acceptance rate of 36 percent. However, after you finish, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get a job, as 92 percent of graduates are employed two years after graduation. Additionally, 83 percent of students feel confident about getting a job in their field of study — pretty good for a school with a liberal arts focus.
8. Michigan Technological University
Net price: $17,139 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $64,700 per year
Popular majors: Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering
This public research university is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where students can enjoy the outdoors year-round. The rural setting allows for plenty of watersports, biking, hiking, and skiing. Not only that, but Michigan Tech is also consistently ranked highly for its return on investment.
Many of the students prefer STEM majors, which probably accounts for the fact that 95 percent of students are confident they’ll find a job in their major when they finish. On top of that, 96 percent of students find jobs within two years of graduating. If you like the outdoors and want a solid return on investment, this can be a good choice.
7. Virginia Tech
Net price: $18,700 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $60,500 per year
Popular majors: Mechanical Engineering, Information Systems, Finance
One of the most respected public colleges in the U.S., Virginia Tech is located in Blacksburg, Virginia. Even though the school says it’s a “tech” college, one of the most popular majors is finance. However, there are plenty of STEM majors to choose from, with engineering and information systems top choices.
This is a fairly large school, with a big enrollment. However, even so, the academics are rigorous and 96 percent of graduates have jobs two years after they finish. The fact that you can get started in a career fairly easily is what makes Virginia Tech a good value, even though the price tag is a bit steep.
6. Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Net price: $14,538 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $79,300 per year
Popular majors: Marine Science, Engineering, International Business
Located in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, this college offers a top-notch education in a beautiful setting. Enrollment is small, ensuring you get attention from your professors. Additionally, it’s relatively easy to get into the school, since it has an acceptance rate of 83 percent.
While STEM majors are popular at the school, you can also get a degree in international business, which is among the more popular choices. Additionally, 71 percent of students feel confident they will find a job in their field after graduation, so you might not feel your efforts are wasted if you attend.
5. University of Virginia
Net price: $16,594 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $60,700 per year
Popular majors: Economics, Liberal Arts and Humanities, Business
According to Niche, UVA is the second-best public university in the U.S. That’s a high recommendation, and one that makes it a good value. And, even though it’s not one of the most popular majors at the school, UVA is rated in the top 10 for physical therapy degrees.
The campus, which is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, gets high marks in all areas of importance, including academics, diversity, athletics, value and party scene. This school is the complete package if you’re looking for the consummate college experience.
4. Virginia Military Institute
Net price: $16,085 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $63,200 per year
Popular majors: Economics, International Relations, Civil Engineering
If you’re interested in a liberal arts degree, you might find good value at Virginia Military Institute, where popular majors include several in the liberal arts. There’s a small enrollment at this school, which is located in Lexington, Virginia. The beautiful setting makes this an attractive choice for campus life as well as the ability to get a good education.
This is one of the best liberal arts colleges in the U.S., and the military tradition also offers some cachet. On top of that, finding a career after graduation is fairly easy. About 97 percent of graduates have a job within two years of graduating.
3. Colorado School of Mines
Net price: $25,472 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $82,100 per year
Popular majors: Mining and Petroleum Engineering, Mechanical Engineering
Many of the students who attend the Colorado School of Mines expect to major in some engineering field. It’s an expensive school, but the ratio of students to faculty is 16:1, making it a good choice for small class sizes and direct instruction. And, when you finish, you have a good chance of being on a career track to make enough money to repay the cost fairly quickly.
Additionally, the placement program allows 95 percent of graduates to feel confident that they’ll get a job when they finish. This specialty school is rated as a best value in Colorado, and that value is only enhanced by the location in Golden, where you have access to the Rocky Mountains and plenty of outdoor activities.
2. Georgia Tech
Net price: $15,873 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $75,800 per year
Popular majors: Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Information Science
Another great value for education, the Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the top public universities in America. Even though you’ll pay a pretty penny for attending, your earning potential might make up for it when you finish.
Located in Atlanta, this school offers access to the city’s growing tech and cultural scene, as well as to a world-class education. However, it’s important to note that the acceptance rate at Georgia Tech is only 23 percent, making it hard to get into.
1. United States Merchant Marine Academy
Net price: $4,870 per year
Median earnings six years after graduation: $78,900 per year
Popular majors: Marine Science, Engineering
This public college is located at Kings Point, New York, located near New York City. It’s highly rated and features a small enrollment, so you know you’ll receive the benefits of small class sizes. This is perhaps the best value in public colleges in the country, due to the fact that after financial aid, your cost is quite low — but your earning potential is among the highest seen after finishing a public school.
If you’re interested in marine science or engineering, this specialty college can help you advance your career. In fact, your starting salary after finishing school could be right around $73,700 per year.