As student loan debt becomes a bigger concern in an economy where advanced degrees are a necessary part of workplace success, a new study seeks to establish the return on investment when it comes to student debt and future earnings.

College degrees are more important than ever, with study after study demonstrating the need for higher-level skills and knowledge to succeed in a challenging workforce.

A report from the Pew Research Center shows that people between the ages of 25-32 with a college degree make 63 percent more than those without a degree. In 2015, 68 percent of the 1.9 million students who graduated took on some form of student debt.

But certain factors can increase students’ return for their “debt investment,” including academic rankings, SAT scores, and average potential earnings.

A new study from analyzed more than 4,600 public and private universities to determine the average amount of debt and earning potential 10 years after enrollment.

(Next page: Which schools leave their students with the most student debt?)

The team of researchers determined that the highest-valued schools in the study were mainly nonprofit, private institutions–graduates from those schools left with lower average student debt and higher average earning potential 10 years after enrollment.

For-profit private schools tended to have higher student debt and a lower reward, and clustered around the $20,000 average potential earning mark.

Data also showed a correlation between higher SAT scores and lower average student debt. Higher test scores also correlated with higher average earning potential in the years following graduation.

The study ranks schools in various categories, including the top 20 national universities with the highest earnings and lowest median student debt (this list inclues ivy league schools and prestigious universities), the top 20 liberal arts colleges, the top 20 public universities, and the top 50 schools with the highest potential earnings.

It also includes the top 50 schools with the highest median student debt. Topping the list are the Southwest University of Visual Arts ($49,750), the International Academy of Design and Technology ($47,000), Sanford-Brown College, Chicago ($47,000), Boston Architectural College ($46,802), and Beulah Heights University ($44,499).

Schools in D.C. and Massachusetts had the highest average earning potential, while Idaho and Mississippi had the lowest–but D.C. schools also had the highest average student debt amount.

The top 10 states with schools offering the best value regarding average debt and earning potential are Wyoming, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Hawaii, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Illinois and Maryland.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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