The top 10 public US colleges that pay off the most

Graduation ceremonies at UCLA
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Choosing to attend college today means, for many students, attempting to solve a complex financial equation.

College costs have steadily increased over the past several decades, rising the fastest at four-year public universities. According to the College Board's 2018 Trends in College Pricing Report, from 1988 to 2018, sticker prices doubled at private nonprofit four-year schools, but tripled for in-state students at four-year public universities.

During the 2018-2019 school year, published tuition and fees at public four‐year schools averaged $10,230 for in‐state students and $26,290 for out-of-state students.

But when CNBC Make It ranked the top 50 US colleges that pay off the most, spotlighting 50 schools that provide students the highest average salaries for their education dollars, we found that many public universities still provide a high-quality education at a reasonable price.

To develop this list, we identified the true net cost of each college for the typical American student — including tuition, fees, books, supplies and other expenses — after subtracting scholarships and grants. Using data from Tuition Tracker, a tool created by education-focused nonprofit news organization The Hechinger Report, we looked at the net cost for students from families making between $48,001 and $75,000. We chose to focus on this bracket because it includes the median U.S. household income, $61,372.

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Then, using data from PayScale's College Salary Report, we divided net cost by graduates' expected annual earnings, which was calculated based on the median salary of graduates with less than five years of experience as well as those with 10 or more years of experience. The ranking gives greater weight to workers' earnings in the years immediately after college, when individuals are the most impacted by college costs and student debt. (You can read our full methodology here.)

The top public university on our list is the University of Washington in Seattle, a school where the average net cost for in-state students from families that make between $48,001 and $75,000 per year is $8,984 and the median salary for alumni with 10 or more years of experience is $111,800.

Here is CNBC Make It's 2019 list of the top 10 U.S. public colleges that pay off the most:

1. University of Washington, Seattle

University of Washington
Nikko Hellstern | Getty Images

The University of Washington, Seattle, is the flagship school of the University of Washington school system. The large public university offers more than 180 majors and is known for its computer science program.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $8,984
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $59,900
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $111,800
Salary average, early and mid career: $85,850

2. University of Washington, Bothell

University of Washington Bothell
Photo: Joe Mabel | Wikipedia CC

Also a member of the University of Washington school system, the University of Washington, Bothell, is a public university that offers roughly 55 degree programs and enrolls just 5,411 undergraduate students.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $8,767
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $58,200
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $104,100
Salary average, early and mid career: $81,150

3. Massachusetts Maritime Academy

A Google Earth view of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Source: Google Earth

Massachusetts Maritime Academy is a public college located in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, that offers bachelor's and master's of science degrees in marine engineering fields. Many MMA students choose to volunteer for military service, though it is not a requirement.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $10,235
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $67,200
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $114,600
Salary average, early and mid career: $90,900

4. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

University of Michigan
tiny-al | Getty Images

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is the flagship campus of the University of Michigan school system. The public university offers 263 degree programs, enrolls 29,026 undergraduate students and is known for its athletics program.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $10,106
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $62,000
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $107,900
Salary average, early and mid career: $84,950

5. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Georgia Tech

Georgia Institute of Technology, often referred to as "Georgia Tech," is a public university located in Atlanta. The school offers technology-focused education to more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students across six colleges and 28 schools focusing on business, computing, design, engineering, the liberal arts and sciences.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $12,284
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $70,800
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $131,900
Salary average, early and mid career: $101,350

6. Purdue University, West Lafayette

Purdue University
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Purdue University's campus in West Lafayette, Indiana, is the flagship campus of the Purdue University system. The public university enrolls 32,672 undergraduate students. Known for its strong engineering program, 28% of undergraduate students at Purdue study in the College of Engineering.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $10,828
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $60,200
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $105,800
Salary average, early and mid career: $83,000

7. College of William and Mary

College of William and Mary
Will Pryce/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

Founded in 1693, the College of William and Mary is the second-oldest college in the country. The public university, which is located in Williamsburg, Virginia, is often referred to as a "Public Ivy." The school offers a joint degree program with University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $11,320
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $57,100
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $113,600
Salary average, early and mid career: $85,350

8. Michigan Technological University

Michigan Technical University
Jcvertin | Wikipedia CC

Michigan Technological University is a public university located in Houghton, Michigan. The technology-focused school is made up of seven colleges and schools including a College of Computing, a College of Engineering and a School of Business and Economics.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $12,080
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $64,600
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $110,200
Salary average, early and mid career: $87,400

9. University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA
Al Seib | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

One of the most selective schools in the University of California school system, the University of California, Los Angeles, is known for its strong athletics department. The most popular majors at UCLA are biology, business economics, political science, psychology and psychobiology.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $12,416
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $60,000
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $118,500
Salary average, early and mid career: $89,250

10. Baruch College

CUNY Bernard M Baruch College
Ben Hider/Getty Images

Baruch College is one of 13 four-year colleges in The City University of New York school system. The public university is known for its business program and enrolls approximately 15,024 undergraduate students. The most popular majors at Baruch include accounting, finance and marketing.

Average net cost (income $48,001-$75,000): $11,473
Median salary for alumni with 0-5 years of experience: $57,100
Median salary for alumni with 10+ years of experience: $107,600
Salary average, early and mid career: $82,350

To view the full list of the 50 US colleges that pay off the most, click here.

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The top 5 private US colleges that pay off the most
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