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Interactive Map: Do Top Colleges Really Cost More? Which Grads Earn the Most?

New online tool lets students and parents compare schools using key financial markers, including average salaries after earning degree

High school students and their parents are well aware, as they “shop” for colleges, of the high cost of a four-year degree -- about $24,000, though much higher at some private schools -- but how much are students earning after graduation?

For those graduating from New Jersey four-year colleges, the answer is about $47,500, according to College Scorecard, a U.S. Department of Education tool unveiled last month that allows the public to search and compare colleges by key financial measures.

The $47,500 represents the median amount students earn 10 years after they first enrolled at the school.

The figure is not a perfect representation of a college's graduates -- it covers only those students who received some form of federal aid, either grants or loans. But it does measure a large portion of the colleges' student bodies, since nearly 40 percent of students who attended one of the 33 four-year colleges in New Jersey in 2013 received Pell grants and more than 6 in 10 took out federal loans, the data shows.

With careers in so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- paying among the highest salaries, it is not surprising the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken ranked atop the list of New Jersey colleges, based on post-graduation earnings. Stevens graduates earned a median of $82,800 annually a decade after first enrolling at the school. That was the 16th-highest in the nation. Princeton ranked second in New Jersey, with a $75,100 median earnings figure, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology was third at $65,300.

At the bottom of the earnings list was Beth Medrash Govoha, a Jewish yeshiva in Lakewood, which reported median earnings of $23,000.

President Obama announced the new tool in his weekly radio address on Sept. 12, saying it is intended to provide students and parents with more useful information on college costs and outcomes than some of the current popular rankings, which "reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students."

The College Scorecard also provides information on the average actual out-of-pocket cost -- after subtracting all federal, state and school grants and loans -- for a year of college. That data might make parents of soon-to-be collegians breathe a little easier, as it paints a very different picture of the immediate yearly financial burden. The Talmudical Academy of New Jersey, a Jewish school in Adelphia, had the lowest average net cost at less than $3,500 a year.

But who would have thought that the lowest average net cost for a traditional four-year college would be the $8,413 bill at Princeton University? Next year, the total cost for tuition, room, board and fees at Princeton is set to be $63,420, according to the university's website. But Princeton gives a substantial amount of aid to students, all need-based, with 60 percent of students getting grants and the average aid to last year's freshmen amounting to $46,000, the university reports. The average cost for a year at New Jersey's Ivy League school was less than $6,000 for students from families with income of $30,000 or less.

Average net cost breakdowns for ranges of family income are included in the scorecard, as are rates of borrowing and typical monthly loan payments, broken down by school. The scorecard, and NJ Spotlight's map, also include links to each school's net price calculator, where parents and prospective students can input their personal financial data and get an estimate of how much they might wind up paying.

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