Getting a college degree comes at a cost. Aside from the many hours of studying, students often find themselves buried in debt by the time they finish their education. Every year, PayScale makes a list of all the colleges in the U.S. and their values by calculating the costs of college tuition, rates of graduation, and returns on investments. Which ones are not getting a passing grade? Here are some colleges that have the worst returns on investment.
Saint Augustine’s University – Raleigh, North Carolina (Return On Investment: -$77,700)
“The truth will set you free” is the direct translation of the official motto of Saint Augustine’s University, but the truth of being on this list is pretty hard to swallow. The Raleigh-based university is one of the historically black colleges and universities in America (or HBCUs), and though the total student enrollment is quite low, with only 974 students, the price tag is high. Four years of study here costs students $129,000, but only 23% of enrollees actually graduate in four years. As for the graduates, most of them do not really get a high return on investment, and while they do have a diploma, they are also left with a mountain of debt.
Stillman College – Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Return On Investment: -$80,400)
In the 2018 fall semester, only 615 students enrolled at Stillman College, and while its small class sizes might draw some to this private Alabama liberal arts school, others might be weary of the low return on investment. Students pay up to $98,700 for four years at Stillman, but PayScale calculated that the net return on investment over a 20-year period is -$80,400. That is assuming the student is among the few who actually end up graduating from Stillman, whose graduation rate is only about 23% in total.
Unity College – Unity, Maine (Return On Investment: -$82,100)
Something environmentally friendly is not always friendly on a person’s wallet, and that statement certainly holds true regarding Unity College. According to the advertisement of this private liberal arts school located in Unity, Maine, it offers an education emphasizing natural resources, environmental studies and sustainability. However, when students graduate, there is a possibility that they might not have the resources to pay their student loans. According to PayScale, over a 20-year period, the net return on investment amounts to a whopping -$82,100 even though the four-year education costs $151,000. Aside from that, only 54% students actually reach their graduation.
Wilson College – Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Return On Investment: -$86,700)
Wilson College sits on a 300-acre campus located in a small south-central Pennsylvania town and was known to be a women’s liberal arts school for 144 years. However, in 2013, the college started accepting male students. It does not matter what a person’s gender is – they might want to see the following stats prior to deciding to enroll. PayScale reports that the graduation rate of Wilson College is only 39 percent, and those who do graduate after paying six-figures for their college tuition ($156,000, to be specific), could see a -$86,700 return on investment over 20 years. For anyone that thinks this math is bad, wait for the college that is next on this list.
Emory & Henry College – Emory, Virginia (Return On Investment: -$91,300)
Not to be confused with Emory University in Georgia, whose return on investment is $452,000 and a graduation rate is 91%, graduates of Emory & Henry College are not as lucky according to PayScale’s calculations. Emory & Henry College is a private liberal arts school and is the oldest in Southwest Virginia. Four years of education here costs about $179,000 but over 20 years, graduates see a staggering -$91,300 as a return for their investment. This probably helps explain why the college has a graduation rate of only about 54%, and for a school whose mascot is a wasp, these statistics have to sting a little.
Brewton-Parker College – Mount Vernon, Georgia (Return on Investment: -$92,200)
It might seem like Brewton-Parker College located in Mount Vernon, Georgia is the perfect option for students who want to attend college in a small and quiet town. After all, the entire population of the town is only around 2,451 people, and nearly half of those people – around 1,119 – are Brewton-Parker students. However, it seems that a small payoff in the future comes with this small town education. For four years of study at Brewton-Parker College, students pay $113,000 on average. 20 years later, the estimated net return on investment is -$92,200. If you think that math isn’t all that great, you should also know that Brewton-Parker’s graduation rate is a meager 17%.
Shaw University – Raleigh, North Carolina (Return On Investment: -$93,600)
Having opened in 1865, Shaw University is the oldest historically black university in the American South. For that reason, some people lovingly call Shaw the “mother of African-American colleges” but there are times when even a mother’s love comes with a price. For the students of Shaw University, that price is an average tuition of approimately $118,000 over four years but sadly, all that love may not even pay off in the end. PayScale found that after 20 years, the return on investment is about -$93,600 on average. You don’t need a college degree to figure out that those are not so great numbers for Shaw University graduates.
Paine College – Augusta, Georgia (Return On Investment: -$94,700)
Paine College has been having pain recently as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has challenged the private Methodist school located in Augusta, Georgia in court. The association has been arguing that the college should no longer have its regional accreditation due to some financial issues. However, PayScale reports that the school isn’t the only one that has been facing financial issues. The reported rankings show that students who spend $97,500 on a four-year education at Paine College get a return on investment of -$94,700 after 20 years and that the Paine College graduation rate sits at an alarming 20%. For a college with a motto of “emerging anew,” it appears its graduates are emerging with so much debt that they likely cannot pay off quickly.
Rust College – Holly Springs, Mississippi (Return On Investment: -$97,100)
The acceptance rate at Rust College is about 43% on average, and those accepted into the college are taking part in a long tradition. The Mississippi college is known for being one of the few historically black colleges and universities which are still operating, and is the second private school to have opened in the state. It appears that students from Rust College are also becoming a part of a pretty long line of college debt. Full tuition, including room and board, at the HBCU costs $63,400, but Rust students usually have approximately -$97,100 net return on investment after 20 years. However, that’s nothing compared to another Mississippi school on this list.
Johnson University – Kimberlin Heights, Tennessee (Return On Investment: -$97,900)
Johnson University is tucked into the Tennessee suburbs just roughly 12 miles east of Knoxville. For the most part, Kimberlin Heights revolves around this private Christian university, and while Johnson University Royals might receive the royal treatment in the tiny town, it appears the school’s graduates are not as lucky in the real world. On average, students spend about $89,800 on a four-year education from the university, but PayScale found that over a 20-year span, graduates see a -$97,900 return of their investment. With 56% of Johnson University students graduating within four to six years, that means many students are coming out with quite an expensive diploma and little chance of paying it off promptly.
Cazenovia College – Cazenovia, New York (Return On Investment: -$98,600)
This intimate and independent college is located in Upstate New York’s greater Syracuse area, and students enroll here if they want a liberal arts education that has a small town feel. There are only 915 undergraduate students at Cazenovia College, which touts its ability to work with students one-on-one and help them achieve success in the real world. However, the small, independent school unfortunately comes with quite a sizeable price tag. Over four years, Cazenovia College students spend around $184,000 for college tuition, including room and board, among other costs. All that money they shell out might not be worth it, though, since on average, the return on investment is roughly -$98,600.
St. Andrew’s University – Laurinburg, North Carolina (Return On Investment: -$98,800)
Potential college students who are looking to study at a picturesque college campus located in a small town might find St. Andrew’s University (called St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College before) appealing. Its campus has a beautiful lake right down in the middle and it also has a pond, if that’s what you are into. Even with their idyllic campus, however, the St. Andrews Knights don’t always leave their students battle-ready for the post-graduate world. Students spend $167,000 on a four-year college education but alumni get approximately -$98,800 as a return for their investment after 20 years. That just isn’t a pretty picture.
Benedict College – Columbia, South Carolina (Return On Investment: -$105,600)
Unlike many other schools on the list, Benedict College sits in a large city and its student population is pretty sizable, with roughly 2,247 calling themselves the Benedict College Tigers. Unlike many HBCUs, Benedict College used to be a teachers’ college, though it is getting quite a bad grade these days in terms of the success of its alumni. PayScale found that the graduation rate at Benedict College is only 22% and the $124,000 in four-year college tuition leaves graduates with roughly a -$105,600 return on investment after 20 years. It sounds like the former teachers’ college would get a grade of a C- at best.
Morris College – Sumter, South Carolina (Return On Investment: -$106,800)
Morris College was founded in 1908 and its motto is “Intrare Libris, Dispartire Servire,” which means, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve” in English. Undergraduates enter the South Carolina HBCU to learn, but it seems the Morris College education doesn’t really serve them upon their departure, at least, that’s what statistics show. According to PayScale, students who paid the $92,200 Morris College tuition over four years saw an average of –$106,800 return on investment after about 20 years Those numbers aren’t really worth cheering over.
Montserrat College of Art – Beverly, Massachusetts (Return On Investment: -$107,400)
Touting a campus that is state of the art for students looking to explore the art world, Montserrat College of Art specializes in visual arts and hosts only around 400 exceptionally skilled students. However, for a college with the motto “Where Creativity Works,” a lot of its graduates join the workforce and find that they cannot match what they had spent on their education. 56% of students graduate the New England art school within 4 to 6 years, but the return on investment they get is usually a staggering -$107,400, and that’s after they had spent $169,000 on college tuition. However, there is another art school on this list which hasn’t passed with flying colors and is leaving graduates under mountains of debt.
Columbia International University – Columbia, South Carolina (Return On Investment: -$115,700)
We have more bad news for the colleges in Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia International University, which is located only six miles from Benedict University (sadly, included in this list as well), has also received a poor grade from the ranking system of PayScale. Not to be mistaken for the ivy league Columbia University (New York), Columbia International University was founded in 1923 and is a private Christian college. Its undergraduate division used to be referred to as a Bible College, even before that phrase became common. These days, undergraduates can expect to spend $133,000 on four years of tuition and get a dismal -$115,700 return for their investment.
Martin Luther College – New Ulm, Minnesota (Return On Investment: -$123,200)
Students across the country have been attracted by Martin Luther College for the more athletic vibe it offers on its Minnesota Riverside campus. About a third of its students participate in varsity sports and nearly two-thirds play in intramural sports. However, that does not mean Martin Luther College has managed to stay in tip-top shape with regard to PayScale’s assessment. Students at Martin Luther College are required to live on campus, so that and four years of college tuition add up. Martin Luther students pay $93,300 for four years of schooling and usually do not see much of a return on investment since they get -$123,200 over 20 years.
Claflin University – Orangeburg, South Carolina (Return On Investment: -$133,900)
A historically black university, Claflin University made history in 1884 for awarding Annie Thortne and Alice Jackson Moorer diplomas, making them the first black women in America to graduate from college. The college has since been aiming to set its students up for success when they face the real world. However, over the many years that Claflin University has existed, it has not really held up that reputation. Despite a solid 56% of its students graduating after spending roughly $128,000 on college tuition, Claflin alumni get about -$133,900 as a return for their investment after 20 years.
Wheelock College – Boston, Massachusetts (Return On Investment: -$140,700)
Formerly called Miss Wheelock’s Kindergarten Training School, Wheelock College was founded Miss Lucy Wheelock. Recently, the school has been renamed Wheelock College due to a merger with the School of Education of Boston University, and it now focuses on different levels of education studies. Partly because of the shockingly low salaries which teachers get after they graduate from college, Wheelock landed on this list due to its return on investment that is triple-digit-negative. For the massive sum of $201,000 that students have to pay to attend the college for four years, graduates usually see -$140,700 as a return for their investment 20 years later.
Voorhees College – Denmark, South Carolina (Return On Investment: -$153,400)
Voorhees College is situated in Denmark, a small town in South Carolina. This historically black college has only 600 students and gets great reviews from its graduates, but unfortunately, those rave reviews don’t mean a passing grade. On average, only about 26% of those who come to get a Voorhees education end up graduating from the college within 4 to 6 years, and those who do pay about $97,000 in college tuition. That costly diploma doesn’t seem super worthwhile in the end since Voorhees College graduates get an average of -$153,400 as return for their investment 20 year later, according to PayScale.
Talladega College – Talladega, Alabama (Return On Investment: -$156,900)
For people who haven’t heard of Talladega College, perhaps they have heard Talladega College – well, at least its well-known marching band. The Great Tornado, or the Talladega College Tornado Marching Band, is famous for competing in battles of the bands at a national level and even gave a performance at the 2017 presidential inauguration parade. However, the school likely does not want to make so much noise about their appearance on this list. For the 43% of students who graduate and spend about $88,200 on tuition costs, they might be left with a return on investment of -$156,900 20 years later. Cue a sad song.
Lindsey Wilson College – Columbia, Kentucky (Return On Investment: -$160,800)
Lindsey Wilson College touts itself as a school for students who are more athletic and with its wide array of sports teams with quite an impressive number of championship trophies, it’s not a surprise that Lindsey Wilson graduates include a number of current professional cyclists and soccer players. However, not all Lindsey Wilson College alumni can expect such success in the real world. The graduation rate of this Kentucky private school is about 34%. Students pay around $152,000 in college tuition for a four-year education, aside from other school costs. In the end, PayScale calculates the return on investment graduates get is a staggering -$160,800.
Maine College of Art – Portland, Maine (Return On Investment: -$163,600)
For many students who are looking to have art education in New England, the search ends with MECA, or Maine College of Art. For students who want to study studio art and fine arts at a higher level, this private school has become an actual mecca. However, despite promising to “educate artists for life,” this school is not really setting its graduates up for monetary success in the future, at least that’s what PayScale’s ranking shows. Students who spend about $184,000 on tuition for art education usually see a return on investment of around -$163,600, which means former students lose roughly a tenth of their investment per year.
Miles College – Fairfield, Alabama (Return On Investment: -$164,600)
Yet another historically black college on this list. The graduation rate at this Alabama liberal arts college is shockingly low at roughly 17%. For the few who do graduate, they shell out $90,200 in tuition and other costs, but they usually see quite a startlingly negative return for their investment. PayScale found that the average 20 year return on investment is roughly -$164,600. We are pretty sure this is one competition that the Miles College Golden Bears do not want to be a gold medalist in.
Mississippi Valley State University – Itta Bena, Mississippi (Return On Investment: -$174,800)
Mississippi Valley State University is known for its quite successful football team and equally successful marching band. “The Valley” has produced quite a few professional football players, some of whom have been honored with a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, MVSU has also earned a spot on this list. PayScale reports that Mississippi Valley State University students cough up $75,700 in college tuition over four years, but see a -$174,800 return on investment. Someone please play a sad trombone.
Campbellsville University – Campbellsville, Kentucky (Return On Investment: -$76,800)
Situated right next to the manmade reservoir Green River Lake and the huge state park which surrounds it, Campbellsville University has a great advantage when it comes to proximity to the great outdoors. This Baptist-affiliated university offers a School of Education, a School of Art, and a School of Music. The campus even has one satellite center in President Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. As appealing as everything may sound, there are some serious financial drawbacks that need to be considered, like the fact that Campbellsville’s students spend roughly $143,000 on tuition but nearly half of that is drained out with the average return on investment of -$76,800, according to reports.
The University of Montana Western – Dillon, Montana (Return On Investment: -$71,400)
Sure, being able to go out skiing, hiking, or snowmobiling after classes sounds like an amazing idea. The Dillon campus of the University of Montana is a small school and has only about 1,500 undergraduates enrolled, but getting an education in the former gold rush town is not what it seems. There is definitely an advantage in a tight student population because you have better access to professors, but in the longterm, it may not be such a great idea to study at the University of Montana Western since its return on investment is one of the lowest in the nation. For having coughed up about $109,000 in college tuition (out of state), only 46% of students graduate and see a -$71,400 return for their investment.
University of Maine at Machias – Machias, Maine (Return On Investment: -$70,700)
History seeps through every part of the town Machias in eastern Maine as it saw the first American Revolution naval battle. However, modern statistics have not been flattering for this town which attracts eager college students. For starters, the graduation rate for this university is only 29%, which means only about 1 in 4 campus undergraduates are expected to complete their degree. While the school was ranked by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the top public higher education comprehensive campuses in the northeast, the $124,000 that students spend on the out of state tuition gives them a return of -$70,700.
Emmanuel College – Franklin Springs, Georgia (Return On Investment: -$70,600)
This religiously-affiliated college celebrated its centennial in 2019. Emmanuel College is affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church and it offers many different degrees, ranging from marketing to recreation, and everything from official Christian ministry all the way to psychology. Aside from that, for a school with its size, Emmanuel offers a wide array of sports options for the students, so many in number it’s downright impressive. In spite of what it offers, 28% of students who do complete their studies at the college often experience some financial issues relating to their investment. The college tuition costs $112,000, but on average, the return on investment is about -$70,600.
Davis & Elkins College – Elkins, West Virginia (Return On Investment: -$66,000)
This liberal arts school is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and is situated in a rural setting. The quaint surrounding town plays host to the yearly Augusta Heritage Festival and the Mountain State Forest Festival. It’s the kind of school whose size can offer greater accessibility to academics, with only twelve students for every professor. Getting a degree amid the stone arches and resplendent greenery, however, comes with a hefty price tag for students at Davis & Elkins College. Having spent upwards of $160,000 on tuition for this private college, graduates can expect to see, a negative return of -$66,000 over the next 20 years.
University of South Carolina Aiken – Aiken, South Carolina (Return on Investment: -$66,000)
The University of South Carolina system is comprised of eight schools, and the Aiken campus is among the fastest growing. Aside from that, the university offers both undergraduate and graduate programs, and ranks first at the regional Southern public college polls. What’s more, it commonly has a high ranking on the guide to Southern campuses by the U.S. News & World Report. However, its solid academic reputation does not really translate to financial benefits. An out of state University of South Carolina student in Aiken will have to shell out roughly $130,000 for college tuition. The return on investment, however, is estimated to be half of that, at -$66,000.
University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma – Chickasha, Oklahoma (Return On Investment: -$65,500)
This campus has an amusing yet unique origin story: a hundred years ago, it used to be the Oklahoma College for Women, and there was a judge who sent an alleged societal misfit there because they thought it was a reform school! Today, buildings labeled as state historic sites fill the campus. The school also has stellar academics that routinely rank first statewide and is known for yearly music festivals. However, it is not known for having a good return on investment for graduates. Despite spending $99,700 on out of state tuition, graduates should expect a paltry -$65,500 as return for their investment.
University of Montevallo – Montevallo, Alabama (Return On Investment: -$64,100)
This liberal arts public school in Alabama has the distinction of ranking first on the U.S. News & World Report‘s list of Alabama public universities offering a masters program. The scenic campus is filled with pre-Civil War buildings and is well known for its yearly Life Raft Debate, where professors explain why their skill set deserves to help people survive a nuclear winter. However, behind the scenes of a fine education and all that tradition, a degree from the University of Montevallo in the long run could have some drawbacks. An out of state student must pay roughly $143,000 for college tuition, but the average graduate will get a return of -$64,100.
Florida Memorial University – Miami Gardens, Florida (Return On Investment: -$64,000)
This historically black college was founded in the late 1800s, and has moved locations within the Sunshine State until it found its current campus in the year 1968. Florida Memorial University was founded with the American Baptist Home Mission Society providing it support and the school remains associated with the Baptist Church. This private school does not only offer undergraduate and graduate programs. Hundreds of teenagers also take pre-college courses here, which is the school’s way of giving back to the community around it in Miami Gardens. Over the decades after graduation, having paid $109,000 in tuition for being an out of state student, -$64,000 can be expected as a return for investment.
The Baptist College of Florida – Graceville, Florida (Return On Investment: -$63,400)
For those looking to have their college experience in a small town setting that is imbued with traditional Southern graciousness, the City of Graceville, which is on the Alabama-Florida border, would probably be the right fit. Located in Graceville, Baptist College of Florida is known for its Baptist minister training program and its school of music, along with other degrees. In spite of advertising greater access to faculty, statistically, it appears that there are drawbacks to getting higher education from the Baptist College of Florida. Its students can expect to spend $68,500 on tuition, but the returns are grim, sitting at -$63,400. That is practically all they had invested to begin with!
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh (Return On Investment: -$228,000)
While it recently closed down in 2019, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh was a private college in Pennsylvania. Just before it closed, it was bought by Dream Center Education Holdings(DCEH), LLC. The college emphasized on design education and career prep for the creative job market. The cost of tuition for 4 years was $155,200, but the 30-year ROI was low, leaving graduates with massive amounts of debt.
The University of Valley Forge (Return On Investment: -$178,000)
Formally known as Valley Forge Christian College, the University of Valley Forge is a private university in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. It’s known to be affiliated with the Assemblies of God. It also offers multiple Bachelors and Masters programs. However, the cost for 4 years is $114,100 and the return on investment is very low.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle (out-of-state tuition) (Return On Investment: -$167,000)
The University of Main at Presque Isle is a public school and part of the University of Maine System. For out-of-state students, the tuition costs $122,100 for 4 years. However, the return on investment they usually get is an incredible -$167,000.
Springfield College – Springfield, MA (Return On Investment: -$101,000)
A private college in Springfield, Massachusetts, Springfield College offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. It’s also known as the birthplace of basketball. The sport was invented there back in 1891 by Canadian-American graduate student James Naismith. The tuition stands at $174,700 for 4 years, but the return on investment is a staggering -$101,000.
Hilbert College (Return On Investment: -$89,100)
A private Franciscan college in Hamburg, New York, Hilbert College is named after Mother Colette Hilbert of the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph. They founded the school to train teachers back in 1957. Currently, the college is a coeducational liberal arts college that enrolls about 800 students for both undergraduate and master’s degrees. The cost of 4 years’ tuition is $116,000, but the return of investment is -$89,100.
Fayetteville State University (out-of-state tuition) (Return On Investment: -$82,600)
A historically black public regional university in North Carolina, FSU is part of the University of North Carolina System and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The cost of tuition for four years is $113,400, with the return of investment being -$82,600.
Ozark Christian College (Return On Investment: -$76,200)
Ozark Christian College is a private evangelical college in Missouri which is affiliated with the Restoration Movement of Christian churches and churches of Christ. For four years, the tuition is $78,530. However, the return on investment is -$76,200.
Meredith College (Return On Investment: -$66,200)
Meredith College is a private liberal arts college in Raleigh, North Carolina. Currently, the school enrolls around 1,600 women in its undergraduate programs and 300 men and women in its graduate programs. The tuition cost for four years is $150,400, leaving graduates with plenty of debt.
Medaille College (Return On Investment: -$60,400)
The four-year tuition cost at Medaille College is $139,700, with a low return on investment, so is it really worth it? This college is a private liberal arts college in Buffalo, New York. Most of the students who attend come from the Western New York and Southern Ontario regions.
Lakeland University – Plymouth, WI (Return On Investment: -$51,300)
Lakeland University costs $132,400 for four years and has a return on investment of -$51,300. It’s a liberal arts college with a main campus located in Plymouth, Wisconsin. This college is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
East Texas Baptist University (Return On Investment: -$37,600)
As of 2012, the four-year tuition cost for East Texas Baptist University is $114,900, with a return on investment of -$37,600. This university is a private Baptist university in Marshall, Texas. It was founded as the College of Marshall back in 1912.
Fayetteville State University (in-state tuition) (Return On Investment: -$31,700)
Again, we have Fayetteville State University, but with in-state tuition. For four years, it costs $62,480, with a return on investment of -$31,700. However, it typically takes students 5 years to graduate, not 4.
Black Hills State University (out-of-state tuition) (Return On Investment: -$27,900)
A public university in Spearfish, South Dakota, Black Hills State University costs $84,170 for four years and has a return on investment of -$27,900. Nowadays, almost 4,500 students attend classes on its 123-acre campus.
Jackson State University (out-of-state tuition) (Return On Investment: -$24,700)
A public, historically black, university, Jackson State University is one of the biggest HBCUs in America and the fourth-largest university in Mississippi. Tuition cost for four years is $116,600, with a return on investment being -$24,700.
Ashland University (Return On Investment: -$24,700)
Four years at Ashland University in Ohio costs $165,400 and has a return on investment of -$24,700. This university is a private one, consisting of a 135-acre main campus as well as a few off-campus centers throughout central and northern Ohio. It’s affiliated with the Brethren Church.