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A New Salary-Vs-Debt MBA Ranking

Class with Wharton School professor of operations and innovation management Christian Terwiesch - Ethan Baron photo

Class with professor of operations and innovation management Christian Terwiesch at Wharton, from which MBAs graduate with a favorable salary-to-debt ratio   – Ethan Baron photo

When life gives you lemons, you squeeze them. When your business gives you big data, you crunch it. Through refinancing more than $4 billion in student loans, lending startup SoFi has harvested financial data from hundreds of thousands of MBAs. Now, the San Francisco company has analyzed nearly a quarter million loan refinancing applications from graduated MBAs to produce its inaugural “Return on Education” MBA rankings. The ranking lists provide salary-to-debt ratios for top schools, and some at the very low end. SoFi has also provided a window into outcomes at reputable second- and third-tier schools, where the bang for the buck is surprisingly high.

“I believe that this is very important for people thinking of doing an MBA, because this is kind of a proof of ‘what I may be able to get’ or ‘what I’m likely to get,'” says SoFi co-founder and VP of community and member success Dan Macklin. “Too often, they only see the sticker price for different schools.”

SoFi, which in September received $1 billion in Series E financing, has used its data to produce three rankings, which might generally be described as “the great, the good, and the ugly.” All three rankings include average salaries three years after graduation, average debt, and salary-to-debt ratio. The first up is a 20-school ranking by salary. Then comes a 10-school ranking by salary-to-debt ratio. (Both rankings in table form below.) The third, the ugly one, provides a dismal view at the bottom of the salary-to-debt picture, showing the schools which produce the worst ratio.

ONLY ONE SCHOOL MAKES LISTS FOR SALARY, SALARY-TO-DEBT RATIO

Only a single institution made both the great and good lists. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business unsurprisingly came up high – No. 3 – on the salary scale, with graduates averaging $177,590 three years out. But the GSB’s relatively low average debt  – $76,987 – also put it on the list of the 10 schools with the highest salary-to-debt ratios, where it occupies spot No. 4, with a 2.3X ratio. The GSB’s MBA candidates benefit from a large pool of scholarship funds – the school reports that half the students receive need-based scholarships, and last year the average grant was $35,830, higher than at any other business school.

Most of the MBA programs with the best salary-to-debt ratios have relatively low tuition and a short duration. The New York Institute of Technology MBA, for example, costs only $24,255, can be completed in one year, and has a 2.5X salary-to-debt ratio – their graduates were making $126,000, only about $5,000 less than MBAs with degrees from schools at the lower end of the top 25 . However, at California State University-East Bay, MBAs were pulling in just $90,000 – but the downtown Oakland school has a 2.4X ratio because the intensive one-year MBA costs a mere $29,800 in tuition, with no surcharge for non-residents. Florida Atlantic University’s Professional MBA takes two years, but costs only $36,000 to $41,400, regardless of residency, and the school has a 2.3X ratio and grads making $105,000.

LESSER-KNOWN PROGRAMS WITH POSITIVE SALARY/DEBT OUTCOMES

“There are some smaller MBA programs in here that maybe people should be aware of because it looks like the salary-to-debt ratio is favorable to the student,” Macklin says.

Among schools with the lowest ratios of salary to debt were a couple of infamously atrocious for-profit operations: Kaplan University – where graduates’ $91,429 average debt swamps their $65,201 average salaries – and Strayer University, where $77,103 average salaries come up against a mountainous $93,430 average debt. Somewhat surprising was the poor performance of the public University of Missouri-Columbia, where graduates averaged $76,910 in salary but were left with $80,610 in debt. At the very bottom of the “ugly” list is Davenport University, a non-profit, Michigan-based institution, where students were bringing in $79,230, but struggling under $135,772 in debt.