College Cost

College Risk-Reward Index Flags High-Debt Schools

College of the Ozarks is a small, Christian, liberal arts college that charges no tuition and has all students working on campus. While the average salary for graduates with between zero and five years of experience at this Missouri school is $38,300, the average debt is only $374. The college stands out among 994 private and public four-year U.S. institutions as having the highest college risk/reward indicator (CRRI) score: 102.41, calculated by dividing salary by debt.

For the next highest scorer, Princeton University, the "early career pay" (ECP) is $69,800; and the "average debt per graduate" (ADPG) is $1,603. That calculates to a CRRI of 43.54, less than half of the value earned by the College of the Ozarks.

At the other end of the rankings are three private institutions with CRRIs under 1.0:

  • Philander Smith College in Arkansas, with an ECP of $34,700 and an ADPG of $36,633, giving it a CRRI of 0.95;
  • Metropolitan College of New York, with an ECP of $41,400 and an ADPG of $46,889, resulting in a CRRI of 0.88; and
  • Marylhurst University in Oregon, with an ECP of $44,700 and an ADPG of $51,833, calculating out to a CRRI of 0.86.

This formula was developed by LendEDU, a marketplace for student loans and student loan refinancing. For the third year in a row, the startup has issued research findings on salaries and college debt. According to its findings, six in 10 graduates will "walk away from campus with diplomas in one hand and student loan debt in the other."

The average debt for the class of 2016 was $27,975, the company noted. Private institutions gave average borrowers debts on average of $30,281, while for publics it was $26,828.

The data used by LendEDU came from three sources: Peterson's CollegeData financial aid dataset, which was based on the class of 2016 and reported through a voluntary survey to the colleges and universities listed in the report; PayScale's College Salary Report for 2017-2018; and the company's own calculations. The study was limited to public schools, private nonprofits and private religious institutions.

Among public institutions, which made up 38 percent of the collection of schools reported on, Troy University ranked at the top of the CRRI value list. While the ECP was $42,600, the ADPG was $2,464, resulting in a CRRI of 17.29. At the bottom of the list among the publics was Texas Southern University, with a CRRI of 1.13, based on an average salary of $44,400 and average debt of $22,930.

However, students attending private institutions came out with a higher average debt — $21,689, vs. $17,860 for those graduating from public colleges and universities.

The CRRI findings are intended to help students identify those schools that are the best "risk-adjusted choices" for undergraduates. As the report's authors noted in an explanation of its research project, "The biggest key when it comes to being financially prosperous as a young college graduate is having a low student loan debt balance and a high early career pay. Contrarily, high levels of debt and low early career pay is a recipe for financial hardship."

The findings, as well as versions of the data in downloadable formats, such as XLS, are available on the LendEDU website. A "student loan debt by school by state" report is also available.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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