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Go Back to the List May 01, 2023
These elite American universities are actually a bargain

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology make more money than those of any other top US university — with those receiving federal student aid earning a median income 10 years after starting college of $124,213 a year. More surprising may be that, for those receiving federal aid, MIT is among the least expensive of American universities, costing an average of just $5,084 a year with living costs, books and supplies included.

On the other end of the spectrum for universities in the Top 25 of the current US News & World Report rankings (of which there are 28 because four are tied for 25th place) is New York University, with the highest average cost for federal aid recipients and the third-lowest median income for former students — although I should note that the cost estimates here are for the 2020-2021 academic year, and NYU increased financial aid substantially in 2021-2022.

These data are from the just-released annual college scorecard from the US Department of Education, which gets the cost statistics from its own Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the income statistics from the Internal Revenue Service. The income numbers aren’t all that surprising and reflect what students major in as much as the quality of institution. MIT is full of engineers, while NYU has lots of visual and performing arts majors. That Penn and Princeton graduates earn more than Yale and Harvard grads surely has something to do with Penn having an undergraduate business school and Princeton a relatively large engineering school.

The cost statistics are more revealing, as they reflect differences in resources and priorities among institutions, as well as the somewhat dysfunctional nature of the US higher education system. (They also are a useful corrective to university financial aid letters that, as Bloomberg News reported this week, usually understate or gloss over the true cost to students.) MIT has the country’s sixth-largest university endowment, at $27.4 billion, according to Bloomberg’s college endowment tracker

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Written by Justin Fox,
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