Study Reveals 10 States Where College Graduates Get the Most for Their Money

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states with the best college roi

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Student Loan Hero study compares the average pay increase that comes with a four-year degree to the cost of college, revealing the five-year ROI of a bachelor’s degree in each state.

Austin, Texas, July 12, 2017 —  Is college worth the investment? That depends on where you live, according to a new study. Student Loan Hero, a leading financial education website, conducted a study to find the state-by-state return on investment (ROI) of a college degree five years after graduation.

“These findings show that a college degree is still a good bet that pays off,” said Elyssa Kirkham, lead researcher on the study. “A bachelor’s degree results in annual wages that are $19,356 higher, on average, and most college graduates break even on their investment within 3.7 years. But in the 10 states with the highest ROIs for a bachelor’s degree, the initial expense of college is low compared to the pay bump that usually follows graduation.”

Most and Least Expensive States

In the No. 1 state, Wyoming, college graduates will triple their initial investment in a degree within five years of graduation. In the top 10 states, graduates will recoup the cost of college in just 2.6 years or less.

The 10 states with the highest college ROIs over five years:

  1. Wyoming: 203 percent
  2. New Mexico: 151 percent
  3. Arkansas: 120 percent
  4. Texas: 114 percent
  5. Georgia: 105 percent
  6. Arizona: 102 percent
  7. California: 102 percent
  8. Alabama: 96 percent
  9. Alaska: 95 percent
  10. Montana: 92 percent


Seven states have negative returns on college at the five-year mark, including Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. In the lowest-ranked state of Vermont, a college degree puts a graduate $75,000 in the hole five years after graduation (with a five-year ROI of negative 57 percent). And it takes 11.5 years for the pay increase of a degree to catch up to the high initial costs of a degree in the state.

“Whether your college degree pays off comes down to how well you limit your initial costs and debt and how much you maximize your earning potential after graduating,” Kirkham said. “Fortunately, today’s college students are increasingly focused on minimizing college costs and debt. Knowing the ROI of a degree in their state can help college students make important decisions, such as whether to attend an in-state college or how much student debt to take on.”

Study Methodology 

Student Loan Hero sourced wage data by state and educational attainment from the U.S. Census Bureau. College costs were calculated by multiplying the average cost of a college credit in each state by the typical 120 credit hours required for a bachelor’s degree.

ROI data was calculated by finding the difference in average wages between a high school graduate and a worker with a bachelor’s degree in a given state and multiplying it over five years. It was then compared to the initial cost of a bachelor’s degree in that state by calculating the five-year ROI.

About Student Loan Hero

Student Loan Hero combines easy-to-use tools with financial education to help the millions of Americans living with student loan debt manage and pay off their loans. Student Loan Hero has helped more than 200,000 borrowers manage and eliminate over $3.5 billion in student loan debt since 2012 and assists over 3.5 million people in becoming more financially healthy every year.

Student Loan Hero offers both current and former students free loan calculators as well as unbiased, personalized advice and repayment plans through an easy-to-use online dashboard.

Founded in 2012 by CEO Andrew Josuweit, who himself had over $100,000 in student loans, Student Loan Hero operates on the belief that all loan help and recommendations should come with honesty and no hidden agenda.

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