California’s Most Rewarding Colleges in 2015

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Updated on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Over the weekend, the White House released College Scorecard data which can help parents understand the value of an education by letting them compare colleges by actual incomes earned from recent graduates as well as the debt burden typical borrowers carry.

MagnifyMoney has analyzed the underlying dataset and is pleased to report a ranking of California’s most rewarding 4 year colleges.

Our method for ranking the schools is simple: the best schools help students generate the highest income after student loan expenses, and the worst schools have students with the lowest income after student loan expenses. So we rank on median income for recent graduates each school less the median student loan debt payments for new graduates of each school reported by the College Scorecard data.

You can view our national rankings here.

(Click on the graphic below to enlarge)



  • Stanford, Santa Clara University, University of the Pacific, USC, and Cal Berkeley are the top 5 California schools for recent graduate income, with graduates from all 5 earning a median of over $60,000 a year after factoring student loan payments.
  • While just 17 of the 57 colleges ranked are in Northern California, 4 of the top 5 are in Northern California.
  • 4 of the top 10 schools were public – Cal Berkeley, Cal Poly, UCLA, and UCSD.
  • Academy of Art University, Humboldt State, Vanguard University, Fresno Pacific, and Biola were the bottom 5 colleges, with recent graduates earning less than $40,000 a year after loan payments.
  • Students with the worst debt burdens – 9% of income or more – were from the Academy of Art University, Vanguard University, several University of Phoenix campuses, California Baptist University, and La Sierra University. Academy of Art’s burden of 13% was the highest among schools ranked.
  • Stanford University students with loans had the lowest debt burden at just 2% of income after loan payments, followed by Cal Berkeley at 3%.
  • San Jose State was the top ranking Cal State university, with graduates earning a median $52,435 after loan payments, and a debt to income burden of 4%. This compares to an average reported median salary of $43,779 across the Cal State schools.
  • Across all 57 schools in California with 2,000 or more undergraduate students, median debt to income burdens averaged 6%, ranging from a high of 13% to a low of 2%, with an average 50% of graduates taking Federal loans. The average of reported median salaries was $48,267, vs a national average of $41,712.
  • The average cost to attend net of scholarships and grants across the schools analyzed was $18,791, in line with the national figure of $18,783.


MagnifyMoney analyzed the College Scorecard database to derive the top schools for take home pay for student loan borrowers.

The College Scorecard database includes median income for graduates of schools who received financial aid as reported by the IRS, along with student loan balances from the Department of Education. MagnifyMoney’s analysis covers 884 U.S. schools in the 2015 College Scorecard database with 2,000 or more students granting Bachelors degrees. In California, 57 schools met this enrollment and degree criteria.

Combining reported income with payments on student loans factors in post graduation earning power, the cost of education, scholarships, grants, and student loans used to finance the degree.  The income reported by the College Scorecard database is for the 5th – 10th years after enrolling in a school, which for a typical 4 year school student represents the years immediately following graduation.

Data definitions:

  • Income after loan payments: Median annual income of graduates receiving Title IV aid less median student loan payments. Income is the average of the 6th to 10th year after enrollment in a school as reported by the College Scorecard database. So for a student who graduates in 5 years, it represents earnings 1 to 5 years after graduation. Students enrolled in graduate school during this period are excluded from the data.
  • Monthly loan payment: Median monthly federal student loan payment
  • Loan balance: Median loan balance of borrowers upon leaving the school
  • Debt to income: Median loan payment divided by median graduate income
  • Average Cost: Cost to attend, less stipends and scholarships
  • Graduate who borrow: Graduates with outstanding federal loans

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