Hey, math whizzes! Looking to make good money fast right out of college? Forget Harvard; sign up for engineering at School of Mines!

Harvard University's graduates are earning less than those from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology after a decade-long commodity bull market created shortages of workers as well as minerals.

Those leaving the college of 2,300 students this year got paid a median salary of $56,700, according to PayScale Inc., which tracks employee compensation data from surveys. At Harvard, where tuition fees are almost four times higher, they got $54,100. Those scheduled to leave the campus in Rapid City, South Dakota, in May are already getting offers, at a time when about one in 10 recent U.S. college graduates is out of work [Joe Richter, "Harvard Losing out to South Dakota in Graduate Pay," Bloomberg BusinessWeek].

But hold on; that's a financial advantage just out of the gate. PayScale.com calculates the net 30-year return on investment for 850 U.S. colleges and universities. By that long-term count, Harvard ranks sixth, behind Harvey Mudd, Caltech, MIT, Stanford, and Princeton. School of Mines ranks 207th for students paying in-state tuition, 212th for those paying out-of-state tuition. Other schools of interest on that list:

  • #119: Carleton College, MN
  • #186: Macalaster College, MN
  • #192/218: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • #262: University of St. Thomas, MN
  • #316/355: North Dakota State University (in-state/out-of-state)
  • #333/371: University of Wyoming
  • #385: Bethel University, MN
  • #409/466: University of North Dakota
  • #463/#536: University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • #495/516: U. of Minn., Duluth
  • #547/#586: Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • #583: St. Olaf College
  • #700/723: South Dakota State University
  • #820: College of St. Benedict, MN
  • #854/881: University of South Dakota
  • #978: Concordia College, MN
  • #1060: Augustana College, SD

By Payscale's estimate, Augustana is so expensive that, even with standard Augie financial aid, after 30 years, a graudate will have less money in her pocket than if she had just skipped college and went straight to work with her high school diploma. Ouch.