They say the college years are the best of your life. They shape the way you see the world, the passions you wish to pursue, and the person you hope to be. But much more than an emotional, personal, and professional starting point, college is a significant financial investment.

In the last 10 years, the cost of college has gone up by more than 25%, according to CNBC. For the 2019 academic year, private colleges cost an average of $48,510 per year, and public ones cost $21,370. After four years, and in many cases five to six years, that cost can stack up significantly, so you’re going to want to ensure that you’re putting your dollars into an institution that is going to make it worth your while.

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Those who have a bachelor’s degree earn about $32,000 more annually than those without, reports the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities. But some colleges have a higher return on investment than others.

Universities that specialize in STEM studies (science, technology, engineering, and math) tend to have a higher return on investment for their graduates. STEM has gained ground over the past 10 years as more and more careers have a need for science and tech knowledge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.2 million STEM jobs in 2020, and that number is growing. The median annual wage of workers in STEM fields is more than twice the national average, as well.

Stacker compiled a list of the colleges with the best return on investment in Tennessee, using a 2019 study by Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf at Georgetown University. Colleges that primarily issue bachelor’s degrees were considered.

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Colleges are ranked by the highest 40-year ROI, with ties broken by 10-year ROI. The study considered net present value, balancing today’s costs against future earnings.

#10. Lipscomb University
– 40-year NPV: $862,000
– 10-year NPV: $53,000
– Median debt: $14,145

#9. Bryan College-Dayton
– 40-year NPV: $864,000
– 10-year NPV: $90,000
– Median debt: $11,738

#8. Union University
– 40-year NPV: $869,000
– 10-year NPV: $60,000
– Median debt: $20,585

#7. University of the South, Sewanee
– 40-year NPV: $899,000
– 10-year NPV: $47,000
– Median debt: $16,000

#6. King University
– 40-year NPV: $908,000
– 10-year NPV: $92,000
– Median debt: $17,939

#5. University of Tennessee-Knoxville
– 40-year NPV: $933,000
– 10-year NPV: $88,000
– Median debt: $14,000

#4. Christian Brothers University
– 40-year NPV: $955,000
– 10-year NPV: $127,000
– Median debt: $16,500

#3. Rhodes College
– 40-year NPV: $1,084,000
– 10-year NPV: $79,000
– Median debt: $22,000

#2. Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences
– 40-year NPV: $1,251,000
– 10-year NPV: $183,000
– Median debt: $28,121

#1. Vanderbilt University
– 40-year NPV: $1,462,000
– 10-year NPV: $169,000
– Median debt: $13,440

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