Personal Finance

Students give public colleges a second look amid coronavirus

Amid a global pandemic and sharp economic slowdown, college-bound high school seniors are giving their state schools a second look.

Thanks to heightened financial concerns, students and families may be more likely to choose local and less-expensive public schools rather than private universities far from home, according to Robert Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review and author of “The Best 385 Colleges.”

In fact, more than a third, or 35%, of seniors and 39% of juniors plan to choose a school closer to home than they had originally intended, a survey by college comparison site Niche also found.

But not all in-state schools are the same. Just as your choice of major impacts your future earning potential, so does where you earn your degree. 

Public college, in particular, does a fantastic job of giving you a return on investment.

Kathy Morris

head of content at

“Public college, in particular, does a fantastic job of giving you a return on investment,” said Kathy Morris, head of content at career planning site However, depending on where you go, “the difference in earning potential can vary dramatically,” she added.

To that end, Zippia compared public schools in each state with the highest average earners 10 years after school.

“Right after school, that entry level salary is relatively similar,” Morris said. “We wanted to see after people had a chance to advance.”

In the long-run, however, careers are built on more than the reputation of a school, brand and perception, Franek added.

Rather, “it’s the quality of the student,” he said, as well as what they are doing outside the classroom, “that seems to line so clearly up with great career value later on.”  

The 10 public colleges where graduates earn the most:

1. University of Maryland Baltimore
Average Earnings: $114,200

2. Georgia Institute of Technology
Average Earnings: $85,900

3. University of Virginia
Average Earnings: $79,400

4. University of California-Berkeley
Average Earnings: $79,000

5. University of Michigan
Average Earnings: $79,000

6. The University of Texas at Austin
Average Earnings: $73,900

7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Average Earnings: $70,900

8. New Jersey Institute of Technology
Average Earnings: $70,300

9. University of Washington-Seattle Campus
Average Earnings: $69,600

10. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Average Earnings: $68,800

— Source:

Graduates of the University of Maryland earned the most overall — averaging $114,200 a decade after school, according to Zippia’s report, based on College Scorecard data.

All in, the 10 colleges with the highest earners range from $68,800 to $114,200, Zippia found. 

“That amounts to a staggering $46,000 difference between the top 10,” Morris said.

More from Personal Finance:
Colleges extend decision deadline due to coronavirus
Federal student loan rates set to hit historic lows
Stemming international enrollment could cost $41 billion

Of course, regardless of the school, those armed with a newly minted diploma will enter an unsteady job market.

Nearly half of all schools have cancelled their on-campus career fairs and interviewing programs for the spring, according to the latest data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Meanwhile, hiring at many firms has ground to a halt.

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