Local College Offers 2nd-Worst Return on Investment: Study

A college right in our own backyard could be one of the worst investments for graduates.

A recent study by human capital firm PayScale.com named the best and worst schools in America when it comes to return on your investment for the cost of college.

The top of the list featured engineering heavyweights like MIT, CalTech and SUNY-Maritime with tiny liberal arts/engineering school Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, Calif.) topping the list with a 30-year return of investment of more than $2 million. But for those return on investment (ROI) champs there are also schools where going there seemingly costs you more over time than just tuition, according to the study.

At the bottom of PayScale’s ROI list, which looked at data collected from surveys filled out by alumni of 1,511 colleges, are two Pennsylvania schools -- the Art Institute of Pittsburgh is dead last with Valley Forge Christian College coming in second to last.

Valley Forge Christian costs about $114,100 for a four-year student but leaves that student owing $178,000 rather than earning money in the future, according to the report.

The small Assemblies of God denomination-affiliated college’s President Dr. Don Meyer disputes the report.

“As far as return on investment, we feel that we are comparable to any similar kind of college or university in the state of Pennsylvania,” Meyer told NBC10.com.

When the ROI report came out, Meyer sent a letter to “friends” of the school that disputed the methodology of PayScale’s report since it took data from the last 30 years -- a time period during which VFCC went through drastic changes -- especially in the 17 years since he took over as college president.

“The fundamental basis for their report is inaccurate because we are a transformed institution from what we were in 1983,” Meyer said.

In the past 30 years, Meyer says VFCC has grown from a non-accredited regional school offering just six majors to about 400 students to now having regional accreditation with 57 majors and six masters degrees offered to more than 1,000 students on the four-year school’s 102-acre Phoenixville, Pa. campus.

When asked if the ROI report is a challenge to VFCC, Meyer said. “To reply to that question incurs that there is even a modicum of accuracy in the basis of this report.”

In his letter, Meyer noted the study’s methodology.

Here is PayScale’s methodology that Meyer questioned:

“We are effectively assuming the (wage inflation adjusted) earnings 30 years from now for a 2012 graduate is the same as the current earnings of a 1983 graduate. If the character of a school's graduates has changed substantially in the last 30 years, this measure may be inaccurate.

“For example, a school that has added or substantially expanded an engineering program in the last 30 years, such that the mix of graduates today are much more likely to be engineers than 30 years ago, would tend to have a 30 year median pay that underestimates the future earnings of the typical 2012 graduate.”

“It’s just very unfortunate that the profile of return on investment is based on three-decades old of our institution,” Meyer told NBC10.com.

PayScale didn’t respond to a written request for comment from NBC10.com.

Other ranking institutions like U.S. News and World Report didn’t publish a ranking for VFCC and the school doesn’t appear on Forbes’ list of “America’s Top Colleges.”

Meyer says VFCC, despite mostly being under the radar, is headed in the right direction while staying true to its core values with thousands of VFCC graduates in “very, very high demand.”

According to Meyer, the college has expanded its vocational training curriculum while keeping true to the values the school was founded on in 1933. We’ve advanced “the application of our mission to include not only church vocational ministry majors but also marketplace ministry majors.”

According VFCC’s mission, the school must “prepare individuals for a life of service and leadership in the church and in the world.”

“When we speak of preparation we speak of it from the Gospel of Luke 2:52 where it speaks of the four-fold development that Jesus had as a young man in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and man,” Meyer said. “So all of students are developed with the intellectual, the physical, the spiritual and the social components -- and all way we do inside the classroom and outside the classroom is focus on those four developmental strategies.”

But does that strategy play in the ever-changing highly-competitive collegiate world?

That is the question raised in part by the PayScale study but Meyer isn’t worried and isn’t looking back.

“If you were to ask us what our best year was we ever had our reply would be ‘the next one’ because we want to continue the maturation process of our entire institution.”

VFCC will be able to prove Meyer’s words if they improve in next year’s 30-year ROI study.

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