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Education Programming The Almighty Buck

State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees 127

Posted by timothy
from the your-mileage-may-vary dept.
jfruh (300774) writes "PayScale has recently released a survey of various U.S. colleges and majors, and determined, perhaps unsurprisingly, that computer science graduates of elite colleges make the most money in post-graduate life. However, blogger Phil Johnson approached the problem in a different way, taking into account the amount students and their families need to pay in tuition, [and found] that the best return on investment in comp sci degrees often comes from top-tier public universities, which cost significantly less for in-state students but still offer great rewards in terms of salaries for grads."
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State Colleges May Offer Best ROI On Comp Sci Degrees

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  • Moo (Score:4, Funny)

    by Chacham (981) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:08AM (#46629965) Homepage Journal

    Unfortunately, you have to be a finance major to understand the report.

    But the Finance major can't possibly be a CS major, unless he went to college twice, which would means he can't plan anyway. Regardless, if he went for Finance first, then to CS, he obviously realized that CS was better. But, if he went for CS first, then for Finance, he would then realize that CS was better. This catch 22 is the best proof why Agile is the preferred method even when taking college courses.

    • by plopez (54068)

      Though in finance the government bails you and you get to keep your job "unwinding" the bad decisions you made. The decisions which caused the problem in the first place. Who's dumber?

      • by Chacham (981)

        Are you saying that a decision for finance is no decision at all?
        Or are you saying that a decision for finance is a good hedging?

        P.S. I should say writing, until the audio comes to a comment near you.

    • by alen (225700)

      it's simple
      unless you're in one of the best high schools in the USA and one of the top people in the school in math and want to be a CS major, don't bother applying to the best CS programs unless you have scholarships and your parents have money to pay

      you are better off going to your state school and taking out less loans you will have to repay

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And this differs from any other major, how?

        Unless your parents have money or you get scholarships, a state school is always your best bet.

    • by ranton (36917) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:51AM (#46630859)

      You don't have to be a finance major to understand that the calculations were flawed. They only count the amount spent on tuition. They don't count the cost of your human capital and the opportunity costs involved. Investing in yourself is not like investing in the stock market because you only have one life to invest in. So you cannot just compare the difference in tuition between a state school and Stanford because you are also giving up a portion of your young life to your educational pursuits.

      Their highest 20 year net ROI/yr school was University of Virginia, but they only returned $1.3 million in total. Stanford returned $1.7 million. So even though the annual ROI was greater at the University of Virginia, you are still leaving $400k on the table by not choosing Stanford. And considering you can borrow money at 6.8% interest, it only costs you $90k more after interest to go to Stanford instead of the University of Virginia (if the loans are paid over a 20 year period).

      So the only correct calculation is that going to Stanford will net you an extra $300k versus going to the University of Virginia (obviously this is not a very precise calculation though).

      • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @12:01PM (#46630971)

        On the flip side, attending UVA in-state costs around $12k/year and you arent gambling your future on the hope that you DO recoup the costs.

        Opportunity cost is thrown around as if attending Georgetown guarantees a high-paying job. Turns out all it guarantees is a massive debt and a shot on the roulette wheel.

        • by ranton (36917)

          On the flip side, attending UVA in-state costs around $12k/year and you arent gambling your future on the hope that you DO recoup the costs.

          Opportunity cost is thrown around as if attending Georgetown guarantees a high-paying job. Turns out all it guarantees is a massive debt and a shot on the roulette wheel.

          That is very true. There are few cases in life where you can get greater returns without greater risks. The investment is not just attending Georgetown; it is also working hard there. The risks of being underemployed if you apply yourself at an Ivy League school in a useful major is very low. That may not be true for a Harvard English major though.

        • by raddan (519638) *
          Not to mention: many UVA grads likely stay in Virginia, and Stanford grads likely stick around in Silicon Valley (e.g., 100% of the Stanford grads that I know). The cost of living in Silicon Valley is dramatically more expensive than in Virginia. E.g, the cheapest condo in Palo Alto [zillow.com] listed on Zillow is priced at $548,000 (which is > $300k above the already insane appraisal value) and for that, you get 679 square feet. Since I was an intern, my housing was (fortunately!) covered by my employer when I w
          • by ranton (36917)

            It is surprising that the figures were so low for certain colleges in more expensive areas. They are basically saying that a Stanford grad will make an average of $117.5k per year throughout their career. And they don't say that the ROI is adjusted for inflation, so that actually means that their inflation adjusted average salary is $96.5k (assuming 3% inflation and $30k average salary for a high school graduate). That just seems insanely low.

            Stanford releases salary statistics for outgoing seniors, and acc

      • So the only correct calculation is that going to Stanford will net you an extra $300k versus going to the University of Virginia (obviously this is not a very precise calculation though).

        You know what the real flaw in the calculation was? They probably didn't account for the fact that Stanford grads don't get paid a lot necessarily because they went to Stanford, but because they were already in Silicon Valley and are therefore more likely to work there after they graduate.

        In contrast, Georgia Tech produces

        • by ranton (36917)

          So the only correct calculation is that going to Stanford will net you an extra $300k versus going to the University of Virginia (obviously this is not a very precise calculation though).

          You know what the real flaw in the calculation was? They probably didn't account for the fact that Stanford grads don't get paid a lot necessarily because they went to Stanford, but because they were already in Silicon Valley and are therefore more likely to work there after they graduate.

          In contrast, Georgia Tech produces programmers of similar skill and talent, but since they're more likely to end up working in Atlanta they also end up getting paid less.

          They don't need to account for the fact that Stanford grads have a greater chance of working in Silicon Valley. That is part of the draw of the school. And Stanford isn't just "lucky" that it is close to Silicon Valley. There is a bit of a chicken and the egg problem, but a good argument can be made that Silicon Valley owes much of its success to its proximity to Stanford (and now they clearly feed off of each other).

          The quality of a school has little to do with the skills and talent it gives you. If you wa

  • by plopez (54068) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:20AM (#46630079) Journal

    A couple of intro classes, programming languages, discrete maths, use of the popular programming language d'jour, operating systems, data structures, algorithms and computability, compilers etc. Am I close to most people?

    So basically the degree itself is a commodity, though not the person. So it doesn't really matter at the undergrad level if you go to Ivy or State. The foundation is the same. There may be differentiation at the graduate level, but that often depends more on your adviser and the adviser's reputation.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      A degree from a real "Ivy" means fuck all to programmers. The only one with any relevance at all is Princeton. The CS and engineering "Ivies" are MIT and Stanford. After that there are about ten or so state schools plus CMU who lead the rankings and prestige. Most of the top 20 CS and engineering schools are state schools. Why are so many in this thread clueless about this?

      But don't be absurdly egalitarian. The difference in those top schools and the rest is enormous. Most schools, public and private, that

      • by plopez (54068)

        What are those differences? BTW, I was using "Ivy" vs "State" metaphorically.

    • by slew (2918)

      Maybe, most undergrad educations are the same, but a degree from Harvard says you got accepted to Harvard.

      There was a follow-up study (Dale-Kruger [nber.org]) to a interesting study a while back that more-or-less concluded it's more important that you apply to Ivy school, but even if you don't get in, still go to a decent school. Krueger and Dale found that for students bright enough to win admission to a top school, later income "varied little, no matter which type of college they attended." In other words, the st

  • Berkeley is, if the (UK) Times Higher Education Supplement Rankings [timeshighe...tion.co.uk] are to be believed, one of the top 10 universities in the world - and top three [timeshighe...tion.co.uk] in engineering and technology. I'm pretty sure that constitutes "elite" standing. But in this article, it's treated as a "top-tier public university." Is it both?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Public universities may offer the best ROI on degrees, but when it comes to the ROI for drop-outs, Stanford, Harvard and MIT have the market cornered.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @10:52AM (#46630337)

    If you're after a good solid education, state schools do offer the best ROI for undergrad studies. I went to one, and was able to (barely) pay for it myself with a small amount of student loans, summer work and a little savings. Undergraduate education, from a content perspective, is very similar everywhere. I have a chemistry degree, and almost all undergrad chemistry programs are the same -- 2 survey courses, 2 organic chem, 2 physical chem, 2 analytical chem, 4 or 5 different lab courses, 4 or 5 electives (which vary based on what the schools' professors are concentrating on.)

    The main differentiating factors I've noticed with private schools are the networking opportunities in and out of school, and the "cushy" factor. Even in a high tax state like New York, the state universities are pretty Spartan as far as accommodations go. Lately, states have been spending lavish sums trying to catch up in terms of sports facilities, etc. but they're still not a Harvard or Yale. Students going the state university route need to understand that they're going to get what they pay for, and likely be ahead of their private university peers in terms of raw dollars in debt when they get out. They need to be self-motivated and mature enough to handle their own affairs -- outside of class, everything at a state university is like dealing with a state agency. You're one student of thousands, and no one but you is going to care if you fail out. As far as opportunities go, private schools do give you a leg up. There are certain jobs you can't even hope to interview for such as white-shoe consulting firms or investment banking, who almost exclusively recruit from Ivy League schools. In my experience, this only applies to your first job or two, however. I've interviewed both public and private college grads, and there's an equal distribution of qualified people in each camp.

    Since tuition is going way up at both the public and private levels, students who don't already have the money saved really do need to do a cost-benefit analysis. I probably would have had a better experience at somewhere like MIT or Stanford, just because I would have been studying with more smart people. But, I didn't have the money for $100K+ tuition. Students need to stop and think whether the caché of a big name school offsets the huge expense. They need to think about things like:

    • - Do I want to go to medical or law school after undergrad?
    • - Do I ever want to work in investment banking?
    • - Will I be disappointed if I don't get to work at BCG, Bain, or Booz & Company?
    • - Do I want the opportunity to hang out with the children of corporate executives and make those "school ties" connections that public university students can't get?

    If the answer to any of these is "yes" and the student has a pot of money, they should go to private school. Otherwise, they should save their money. If a student is willing to hustle a little to get their first job, their accomplishments at that job and the connections they make will carry them through the rest of their careers. They probably won't reach stratospheric heights of corporate power, but talented students graduating with in-demand degrees can still do well.

  • I didn't go to an Ivy League school so I can't verify this first hand but I would suspect that both Public and Private schools offer much the same in terms of what you learn while you are there. The big advantage, I suspect, in going to a Private school is the people you meet and the contacts you make rather than what you learn in the classroom.

    Think about it - who goes to expensive private schools? Sons and daughters of alumni. Kids of successful parents. Kids of wealthy foreign families. Those are tomorro

    • by Anonymous Coward

      From my experience graduates from Stanford, Carnegie-Melon, etc. are helped, even expected, to start business and are given easy access to capital, meanwhile kids from state colleges are expected to work for the private school grads new startups. It might not always work that way, I'm sure some Stanford guys who for Apple or whatever, hoping to reach engineering VP or something, but general private school is for entrepreneurs and state school is for the people who will work for the entrepreneurs.

  • by netsavior (627338) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @11:26AM (#46630643)
    I know very few people who actually went to university to get an education. And even fewer employers who care more about "Education" than "degree." Nearly all of the people I work with and went to college with went for a degree.
    If you could do the job you want to have for the rest of your life the day you leave high school (like most software engineers who actually write code for a living - assuming some learning on the job) then your greatest ROI is to get an accredited diploma from the cheapest, fastest university you can go to.

    You are filling in a checkbox, not seeking an education... don't fool yourself.

    A degree is a practical expense for most people. An "education" is a luxury afforded only for the very rich. Don't go into crippling debt to get an education, you (basically everyone) can't afford that crap. You can study and learn on your own, later. You are there for a degree, and don't forget it.

    An entire generation of people seem confused about this. They think an "education" is worth going into massive debt, they think an "education" will get them a job that will pay the bills... well, I should use the past tense, because nobody thinks that anymore. According to what I have read about "Millennials"

    Degree as part of a structured career plan = good idea
    Education as a "career will follow" plan is OVER, it was the case in 1965, but you will enjoy a lifetime full of debt and meager earnings if you use that "plan" now.

    If it seems harsh and anti-education I am sorry. I am all about learning, but novelty $100,000 sheepskins, sold at 4% interest to first generation college students with no career plan - really boils my blood.

    It is really disappointing that in my lifetime we have managed to shift seeking an education from an empowering experience to hopelessly and permanently hindering the lives of middle and lower class people.
    • by Ryanrule (1657199)

      Yeah, well, blame the boomers.

      They think they will get to go to retirement homes. Actually, we will poison them all and take their retirement dollars.

  • I applied for other universities, but when it came down to it I found that going to Oregon State University was the best bang for my then-limited buck. And I've been very happy with my CS degree.
  • by cplusplus (782679) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @12:02PM (#46630979) Journal
    ...what you put in to it. I went to a local state university for CS, and I studied hard and did well in school. Four years later I had my BS in CS in hand having paid less than $15K in tuition (and that wasn't all that long ago). I got a job locally with the help of referrals by professors who had good working relationships with many of the local tech employers. In short, my entire education was a helluva bargain, and helped launch my career.
  • In my day... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I pity today's college student burdened with obscene tuition. When I decided to go back to school (because of a non-existant social life) my choices were pretty open - I had good undergrad grades and a mind-blowing GRE. Tuition/fees at UT Austin c. 1970 was under $700 a *year* and I rented a quite decent duplex for $135 a month. Planning to spend most of my time chasing coeds, I opted for a not-so-high-pressure state school over an expensive, high-pressure, prestige school. Never regretted it - chasing

  • I don't think it matters too much where you go to college. If you are good at computer programming, companies will try to snatch you up quick. Some people don't even go to school for it because they teach themselves how to program. Over time, it will matter less which school you came from but rather the experiences and interpersonal skills you have gained. This will help you greatly advance higher in both position and salary.
  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday April 01, 2014 @01:39PM (#46631811)

    One thing I've found in the work world that they don't prepare you for at all in college is the work environment. In college, you take CS or engineering classes, and you do the work on your own, frequently in the solitude of your own apartment, or at the library where it's quiet. Then, when it's time for an exam, you take it in the classroom, and talking and discussion and other noises are not allowed. This should all be changed, because it doesn't reflect the modern work environment.

    First off, students should be required to do all their programming assignments and exercises together in one large room, at rows of open tables with no dividers between them. A class full of business majors or better yet marketing majors should be brought in and sat right next to them, so they can do their collaborative projects next to the CS/engr majors. The business/marketing majors can talk loudly all they want, and interrupt the CS/engr majors while they're working with various useless comments ("How's it going!"). The CS/engr majors should not be allowed to take their work anywhere else; they have to do it only in this environment.

    When it's test time, the test should be held in a busy corridor. Put all the students at long tables together on the side of the corridor, so that all the foot traffic passes right next to them.

    If you can't do your programming work with lots of noise and commotion and people talking to you and walking by you constantly, you have NO business being a programmer in today's corporate world where open-plan work areas are now the norm.

    • Run for 20-somethings by 20-somethings. Plenty of alternatives.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Um, I'm sorry to break it to you, but the companies I've seen this at are not "run by 20-somethings". For instance, I'm currently contracting at a defense contractor where the cubicle walls are very low and there's no real privacy, and I have a constant stream of people walking right in front of my desk all day. This company is as old as the hills. I worked at another company with an more open layout a while ago; that company I believe was started in the early-mid 1980s. The managers (not young people,

    • by istartedi (132515)

      I don't know how representative our respective anecdotes are. UVa's BSEE program had plenty of group work. We frequently worked in groups, 4 was a common number. There was also plenty of solitary assignments; but there were definitely groups with many of the "personality issues" that you get on jobs. For example, the "guy/gal who tends to free ride" vs. the "guy/gal who ends up doing all the work" and of course the "form your own groups" problem--like picking teams for pickup games, except that it was b

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        I had group assignments too at Virginia Tech in my BSEE program. I'm not complaining about group work, or dealing with personalities. I've frequently had to work with other people at work, but the key is: I don't usually sit right next to them (actually, one time I did, but we had full-height cubicle walls, which worked out really well). In better workplaces, I had a full-size cube with full-height walls, and when I needed to work with others, we'd visit each others' cubes, or go to a conference room, or

        • by istartedi (132515)

          OK, I see what you're getting at. There's real collaboration and then there's "throw everybody into a chit-chat blender". The closest I came to that at school was the 2nd floor computer lab which IIRC had quiet hours vs. regular time. If you had to work during regular time, there was a lot of conversation and anybody could bother you--but usually they didn't. One time I was there and some frat boys streaked it wearing stocking masks. Allegedly this was part of the initiation.

          Streaking was rare though,

    • Back in my day we DID do all of our work in a room full of other students (the computer lab). A few people had computers (Apple IIs and Commodore 64s), but they weren't connected to the network.
      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Did you have a bunch of loud-mouth business majors blabbing all day in the computer lab? The other problem with these open work environments is they aren't just staffed by a bunch of quiet geeks, they've got everyone else thrown in there or sitting nearby. I currently sit across the corridor from some supply chain manager who leaves his office door open and talks loudly on the speakerphone.

  • ROI on Comp Sci

    Hahah! Good one. Almost got me. Everyone knows the best ROI is via nepotistic foriegn degree mill and a H1B visa. April fools!

  • This article misses the fact that elite colleges are also typically the most generous when it comes to financial aid. I am studying CS at Yale. Yale's tuition + room and board cost is nowhere near affordable by my family. Nevertheless, I got a Yale scholarship that covers everything I cannot pay, and I will not be indebted when I graduate. My tuition is probably lower than a state college's (although they might provide some aid for cases like mine, but not me since I'm an international). And I am by no mean

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