Time is money, especially if you’re a parent or high school student trying to decide which college or university will give you the best return on investment over a lifetime of working. Georgetown University's 2020 annual study of colleges and universities with the highest ROI 40 years after enrollment can help.

Last year, Georgetown examined 4,500 colleges and universities nationwide. To calculate ROI, Georgetown used the net present value (NPV) beginning at age 20—the average age of student enrollment at most liberal arts colleges—up to age 60. The NPV metric used in the study represents how much a sum of money in the future is valued today, and includes costs, future earnings and the length of time it would take to invest and earn a certain amount of money over a 40-year fixed horizon.

High school graduates who may have believed a liberal arts degree was not as valuable as a degree in nursing or engineering might be surprised by Georgetown’s findings. 

The median ROI of a liberal arts college degree 40 years after enrollment is $918,000. That's about 25% higher than the median ROI of $723,000 for all colleges and universities examined in the study. That $918,000 figure is also close to the 40-year ROI of four-year engineering and technology-related schools ($917,999) and four-year business and management schools ($913,000).

The liberal arts colleges with the best long-term net economic gains are all four-year institutions. Eight of the 10 are private nonprofit institutions and two are maritime academies. 

Here, in ascending order, are Georgetown University’s top 10 colleges and universities with the highest ROI 40 years after enrollment.

10. United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA)

Uncle Sam subsidizes the cost of an education at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Midshipmen receive free tuition, room and board, uniforms and textbooks. With a graduation rate of 78% and a median student debt of $6,500, USMMA graduates who earn a bachelor's degree can look forward to a ROI of $1,949,000 forty years after enrollment.