Money

Here’s how to recoup the cost of a college degree in 2.6 years or less

University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming.
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University of Wyoming Arts & Sciences Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming.

Earning a college degree can be expensive. The average cost of one year at a public university for in-state students is more than $20,000, College Board estimates. For out-of-state students, it's $34,000. More than 44 million students have taken out loans to pay those costs, and their debts total $1.4 trillion.

And tuition is rising by about six percent annually, according to Vanguard. That means, unless something changes, in 18 years, a college degree could cost $500,000.

A study from Student Loan Hero that reveals the state-by-state return on investment of a college degree five years after graduation offers good advice for recouping your investments: Be strategic about where you choose to live.

For instance, try Wyoming. Avoid Vermont.

SLH's study uses state wage data and data from the U.S. Census Bureau to find the average pay increase that comes with a bachelor's degree. It then compares that pay increase with the average cost of college to estimate the ROI in each state.

In Wyoming, the average graduate can triple their initial investment in a college degree within five years of graduating, according to the study. In the top ten states overall, graduates can recoup the cost of their degrees in 2.6 years or less.

Rustic retreat in Jackson, WY.
Rustic retreat in Jackson, WY.

Here are the 10 states with the highest ROI over five years:

1. Wyoming

ROI: 203 percent

2. New Mexico

ROI: 151 percent

3. Arkansas

ROI: 120 percent

4. Texas

ROI: 114 percent

5. Georgia

ROI: 105 percent

6. Arizona

ROI: 102 percent

7. California

ROI: 102 percent

8. Alabama

ROI: 96 percent

9. Alaska

ROI: 95 percent

10. Montana

ROI: 92 percent

"These findings show that a college degree is still a good bet that pays off," Elyssa Kirkham, lead researcher on the study, tells Student Loan Hero. "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."

Seven states have negative ROIs after five years. Among them are Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. In Vermont, the lowest-ranked state, the average graduate is $75,000 in debt five years after graduation.

Overall, "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," says Kirkham.

"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 debt to take on."

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