30 universities that aren’t worth the money
National studies still show that getting a degree leads to higher wages, but not all universities and colleges are doing their part. Every year, PayScale, a national wage analytics company, keeps schools honest by rating how well their students are doing by measuring their return on investment (ROI) 20 years after they graduated. We’ve compiled the worst ones, and you might want to skip applying to these institutes of higher education, unless you want lower wages.
30. University of South Carolina Aiken — Aiken, South Carolina
If you’re searching for a school to attend next year, and you see students playing with fidget spinners, then you might want to find another place for your higher education. It takes the average student five years to graduate from University of South Carolina Aiken, and it will cost about $130,000 to attend school there during that time.
After mounting student loans and a terrible starting salary, students can expect to get a negative return on investment of -$66,000 over the next 20 years. To use academic terms: “That sucks!” Well, at least the university, which focuses heavily on liberal arts degrees, has cupcakes.
29. Emmanuel College — Franklin Springs, Georgia
Believe it or not, that Saint Bernard was the Homecoming King of Emmanuel College in 2019. Hopefully you didn’t believe that, but if you did, perhaps you should enroll at Emmanuel College in Georgia, where a five-year internment will cost you over $27,000 a year.
Emmanuel College is a Christian school, and it seems that the Christian thing to do would be to provide their students with a means to make money after their time there! The school just celebrated its centennial, and we hope they used to do better than giving their students a -$70,600 return on investment.
28. University of Maine at Machias — Machias, Maine
Things that make you go, “Umm” … These two men are members of the basketball team at the University of Main at Machias, and umm, that’s the worst acronym for a school ever! Well, maybe second to St. Thomas University of Public International Diplomacy, which comes out as “STUPID.”
Acronyms aside, at least UMM boasts being located on the Bold Coast, which is a unique part of Maine full of life and beautiful scenery … that students pay $124,000 over five years to see. The university likes to connect students to the outdoors, probably because they’ll be spending much more time there with a return on their college investment of -$70,700.
27. University of Montana Western — Dillon, Montana
The University of Montana Western says that it offers an “experiential education,” and that’ll happen when a school is located right smack-dab in the middle of two of America’s best national parks: Yellowstone and Glacier. Yes, the scenery is beautiful at UMW.
Though UMW boasts a 46% graduation rate (a high for this list), all that environmental focus just isn’t paying off these days. Even though you can get your education mostly outdoors, experiencing some of the country’s greatest treasures, the focus on the environment just doesn’t pay off in the job sector. That’s why graduates from UMW can expect to get a -$71,400 return on their investment.
26. Campbellsville University — Campbellsville, Kentucky
College is where people go to find themselves, and to their credit, Campbellsville University in Kentucky seems to want to help students “find their calling.” So if photo-bombing an Instagram post is what gets you going, don’t be surprised if some people point and laugh at you, especially because you’d be paying $143,000 to graduate.
It seems strange that CU would saddle their students with a ridiculous -$76,800 return on investment, especially since they’ve invested so many resources into their Technical Education Department. That seems like a good idea, until you realize that students can take these expensive courses, but cannot receive a degree in any technical field.
25. Saint Augustine’s University — Raleigh, North Carolina
When you only have 974 students enrolled in a school, the tendency is to jack up the price. That’s certainly the case for Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where students will pay over $32,000 a year if they decide to graduate. That tops the list, and if you haven’t noticed, that’s not good.
With this ridiculous price tag for an education comes the added terrible news that graduates will receive a -$77,700 return on investment. At least the students there look like they’re having a good time, but with debt like that, the good times are not made to last.
24. Stillman College — Tuscaloosa, Alabama
The joy of graduation is a wonderful feeling that these young ladies are no doubt enjoying. They have caps and gowns with a little extra panache. They also have smiles on their faces, and they should, because they are part of only 18% of students who graduate from Stillman College!
This is the first college on our list to dip below $100,000 for the average cost to graduate, so props to Stillman there. However, with a heavy emphasis on liberal arts education, and the fact that it generally takes students five years to graduate, students are left with a -$80,400 return on investment.
23. Unity College — Unity, Maine
While Stillman only graduates about 1 in 5 students, at least Unity College in Maine manages to graduate about 1 out of 2. This young soccer player must not be one of them, as this action shot looks like he’s in a great deal of distress. That’s probably because he’s paying almost $38,000 a year to graduate.
To put that in perspective, you could get a cheaper education in warm Southern California at the University of San Diego, but you’d have a $642,000 return on investment. At Unity, the ROI for graduating is -$82,100, which is a difference of over $32,000 a year for 20 years. Ouch!
22. Wilson College — Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Wilson College is what you would call an old school, because it just recently celebrated its 150th year of existence. Nice job, WC. The only problem is the school hasn’t exactly been kind to their graduates, who will spend $156,000 to graduate.
Wilson College made history in 2013 when it enrolled its first male student. That’s right, in the name of inclusion and diversity, the school took a step forward toward a more diverse campus. Now, male students can enjoy what female students have to endure, which is an -$86,700 return on investment. You’d think it couldn’t get any worse, but oh boy, it sure can!
21. Emory & Henry College — Emory, Virginia
Emory & Henry College is as old as they come, as it was founded over 180 years ago in 1836. It’s hard to imagine that it would last this long, given the fact that students who graduate are faced with a -$91,300 return on investment!
At least their graduation rate is over 50%, which means that Emory & Henry are raking in the dough. Couple that with the fact that this school is third on our list for highest tuition, coming it a whopping $179,000 to graduate, and the college is making big bucks. Emory & Henry’s mascot is a wasp, and if you attend there, you will feel its sting.
20. Brewton-Parker College — Mount Vernon, Georgia
Don’t let the excited ice cream scooper below fool you, Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Georgia, is not exactly where you want to end up. Ice cream on Halloween is definitely something to be happy about, but a student population that makes up half the population of the town (that has less than 2,500 people) is not.
Students at Brewton-Parker College typically borrow less money to attend school there, but that’s probably because the cost of living is near the bottom in the country. As for those who graduate, they’ll be feeling the weight of whatever they did borrow, because they’ll be getting a -$92,200 return on their investment.
19. Shaw University — Raleigh, North Carolina
Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in a bit of a financial crisis as of December 2019, as it’s been recommended that they sell all nonessential real estate to avoid disaster. It seems like tuition prices are high enough that the university should be able to sustain itself, but then again, only 19% of students stay to graduate.
For those who stay, the situation is not something to smile about. Students who attend Shaw University tend to borrow more money to complete their education, and will also enjoy a terrible return on their investment, with -$93,600 over their first 20 years post-college.
18. Paine College — Augusta, Georgia
Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, is one of the smallest schools on this list. Their 2018 admission numbers tell a part of the story: There were only 419 students enrolled. Their graduation numbers tell the rest of the story, as they only graduate 20% of their students, and they have only 6,000 graduates that are still alive.
That doesn’t bode well for a school that was founded almost 140 years ago in 1882. It’s also not a good sign for a graduating class that will see a -$94,700 return on their investment. If you go to Paine College, you’ll definitely be feeling the pain.
17. Rust College — Holly Springs, Mississippi
Rust College is the second-oldest private college in all of Mississippi, as it was established in 1866. The college has about 800 students currently enrolled, and to its credit, it does keep its tuition costs down, as graduates will spend less than $16,000 a year.
That’s hardly good news for the students at Rust College when you consider that you get exactly what you pay for. And in this case, what graduates pay for is a mountain of debt and a terrible return on investment. About 33% will graduate, but after that, they can expect an ROI of -$97,100.
16. Johnson University — Kimberlin Heights, Tennessee
They say that ignorance is bliss, and perhaps you’d be jumping for joy too if you weren’t thinking about the terrible financial situation you would be in if you attended Johnson University in Kimberlin Heights, Tennessee. FYI, that’s basically in the middle of nowhere, as the population of the town is less than 1,400 as of 2010.
The latest census data on Kimberlin Heights is a little outdated, as is the case for statistics on their current admissions, which seem to be absent from the college’s website. As for graduates, they’re probably not jumping for joy after 20 years, when they realize they’ve received a -$97,900 return on investment.
15. Cazenovia College — Cazenovia, New York
Well, we’re not going to clown on these two students of Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, New York, as they are conducting a food drive. But perhaps the food drive is meant for the graduates of their school, who will pay a high for this list: $46,000 a year for tuition.
There are under 1,000 students at Cazenovia College, and the school likes to brag about its ability to teach them one-on-one. With all that money students are shelling out, they probably have a one-to-one teacher-to-student population. Yet with all that attention, graduates can expect a -$98,600 return on investment.
14. St. Andrews University — Laurinburg, North Carolina
The girls netball team (think basketball, without a backboard), and the rest of the students at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina, are gonna need to be picked up from time to time. They look happy now, but 20 years after they graduate, they’re gonna ask themselves why they’re still in debt, after paying over $40,000 a year to go to college.
St. Andrews University may have a lake and a pond on campus, but their students will be crying a river when they realize their return on investment is -$98,800. With all the money students are forking over, perhaps the school could afford a backboard so students can play actual basketball.
13. Benedict College — Columbia, South Carolina
Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, actually has a bustling student population. With nearly 2,500 students enrolled, they’re one of the bigger schools on this list. However, with a graduation rate of 22%, they graduate as many students, or even less, than other schools.
That seems pretty irresponsible, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that Benedict College is the first on this list to crack a -$100,000 return on investment. Benedict used to be a school where teachers came to get educated, but their first lesson should be to stay away, unless you also want to be an average graduate who has a lot of debt.
12. Morris College — Sumter, South Carolina
Morris College in Sumter, South Carolina (right about where the first shots of the Civil War were fired), has an equally deplorable graduation rate as Benedict College, but at least they dress a little smarter at Morris (style points go to Benedict, though).
The motto “Intrare Libris, Dispartire Servire,” translates to, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.” Well, students may “enter to learn,” but when they depart, they won’t be serving the community, and won’t be enjoying the good life. Instead, they’ll be paying off mountains of debt after getting a -$106,800 return on investment. It seems like the ones who don’t graduate are the smart ones.
11. Montserrat College of Art — Beverly, Massachusetts
These geniuses of creativity attend the Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the school is so small that this photo actually captures over 2% of the school’s entire student body! That’s right, only 400 students attend Montserrat, and that’s probably because of the financial peril all of them will face.
Devoting one’s life to the arts is a wonderful endeavor, though more often than not it does not yield a lot of money. That’s why graduates get a -$107,400 return on investment. Another reason is the astronomical tuition, which costs over $42,000 a year. To be sure, that’s not a good picture.
10. Columbia International University — Columbia, South Carolina
Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina, should not be mistaken for the Ivy League school in New York by a similar name. Columbia University in the City of New York will net graduates a return on investment of over $650,000, which is way more than graduates from this school in the Palmetto State.
To its credit, Columbia has the highest graduation rate on this list, coming in at 74% (Columbia in New York has a 94% rate). However, students who are lucky enough to graduate won’t be jumping for joy when they realize that they’re getting a -$115,700 return on investment.
9. Martin Luther College — New Ulm, Minnesota
Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, is a haven for jocks and wannabe athletes. Not only are a third of the students playing varsity sports, but two-thirds of the campus is at least playing in an intramural league. Physical health is important, especially when one’s financial health is suffering.
These young ladies represent over 3% of the small graduating class. By 2039, we’re willing to bet that those smiles will be wiped from their faces when they realize their return on investment for college is -$123,200. At least they graduate 73% of their students, so they can all be saddled with debt.
8. Claflin University — Orangeburg, South Carolina
The best days of Claflin University are decidedly behind them, as they leave current graduates with a terrible return on investment these days; but once, they did something historic. In 1884, when they graduated two young women, Alice Jackson Moorer and Annie Thortne, they became the first university in the U.S. to graduate an African-American woman.
That truly is a wonderful thing, but over 125 years later, things have gotten worse for Claflin. Instead of pioneering education, they now leave their graduating students with a -$133,900 return on investment. It begs the question, who’s laughing at who in this picture?
7. Wheelock College — Boston, Massachusetts
Wheelock College is doing some good in the world, as it is a haven for training future educators of America. However, it’s not doing so well for the students of their school. The woes of low teacher salaries are all too common, but Wheelock exacerbates the problem by having the most expensive tuition on this list: $201,000 for four years.
With all that money devoted to their education, you can bet that students will be riddled with debt come graduation. That not-so-handsome teacher’s salary isn’t going to help much either, leaving graduates in a bad position where they’ll get a -$140,700 return on their tuition investment.
6. Voorhees College — Denmark, South Carolina
The ladies of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority house at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, definitely have some hops, but after graduating they won’t even be able to get off the ground with all the debt they’ll be carrying. However, students give Voorhees high praise when giving reviews, and that’s certainly on display here.
It costs about half as much to go to Voorhees College as it does to go to Wheelock College, but the returns are equally terrible. Voorhees only graduates about 26% of its students, and those poor folks will be faced with the fact that after college they got a -$153,400 return on investment.
5. Talladega College — Talladega, Alabama
Talladega College in Alabama has the dubious distinction of starting off our top five (perhaps “bottom” is more appropriate), but none of the schools on the list can hold a candle to the Tornado Marching Band. They compete nationally every year, and even played at the presidential inauguration in 2017.
Talladega College actually has the lowest tuition on this list, coming in at $88,200 for four years of education and a degree. However, that degree won’t be worth much, as graduates are looking at a -$156,900 return on investment. Guess “Marching Band” doesn’t appear on a lot of job resumes.
4. Lindsey Wilson College — Columbia, Kentucky
“Nope, it’s not your diploma, silly. It’s a pizza!” At least there’s something to celebrate for students who graduate from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, as pizza always wins. But winning doesn’t come easy for graduates, who end up spending over $30,000 a year at the private college.
Lindsey Wilson is known for their athletics and has produced numerous professional soccer players. But for those who aren’t excelling in professional sports, they can look forward to a life of debt, and a return on investment of -$160,800. At least they have free pizza; maybe that’s why students go there.
3. Maine College of Art — Portland, Maine
You probably haven’t heard of the Maine College of Art, or as it’s commonly known, “MECA.” The reason for that is almost 70% of the student population is from New England, and anyone from that area who’s pursuing a fine arts degree will try to make the pilgrimage to MECA.
MECA has a very tiny population of artists, as they have less than 500 undergraduate students. It’s one of the most expensive colleges, coming in at $46,000 a year for tuition. They also rank near the top in leaving their students anchored down by debt, and in return on investment, which equates to a terrible -$163,600.
2. Miles College — Fairfield, Alabama
Miles College is widely known for its athletics, and its famous marching band — the Purple Marching Machine (PMM). The PMM is so pervasive on campus that they make up nearly 15% of the student population. And now here comes the bad part.
Not only is Miles College second-highest on our list of PayScale’s worst schools for return on investment, with a -$164,600 ROI (yikes!), but they also have the worst graduation rate, at only 17%. OK, we should’ve said, “Here come the bad parts.” At least it’s one of the cheapest schools on the list, but c’mon, how are these students supposed to make a living?!
1. Mississippi Valley State University — Itta Bena, Mississippi
Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) is widely known for its excellence on the football field (and for its fashion sense), and has some very famous alumni. The most famous of these alumni is Jerry Rice, the NFL’s all-time touchdown leader and Hall of Fame inductee. That’s about where the good news stops.
Rice may have gone on to top many of the NFL’s records lists, but MVSU tops a much more terrible list: PayScale’s worst college for return on investment. MVSU graduates will have to face a -$174,800 ROI for the next 20 years of their lives. At only $75,000 for four years of school, which is the lowest on this list, it’s either boom in the NFL or bust everywhere else for these graduates.