What's the return on your Pa. or N.J. college investment?

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As with any expenditure, return on investment is an important consideration when choosing a college.

After a house and retirement savings, college can be one of a family’s biggest investments. When Money magazine comes out Monday with its 2017 ranking of colleges based on future earnings (money.com/bestcolleges), you can suss out which of the 711 schools represented do the best job of launching students into high-paying jobs for a reasonable price.

We sorted out the Pennsylvania and New Jersey colleges, and the most interesting feature? The mobility rate, or percentage of students who come from families in the bottom fifth of incomes and end up in the top fifth of incomes. Each school’s mobility rate is the product of a few factors: access, or the fraction of its students who come from families in the bottom fifth; and success rate, or the fraction of such students who reach the top fifth.

Not surprisingly, Ivy League universities have the highest success rates, with almost 60 percent of students from the bottom fifth reaching the top fifth. But less selective schools also have comparable success rates while offering much higher levels of access to low-income families. For example, 51 percent of students from the bottom fifth reach the top fifth at New York state school SUNY-Stony Brook. Because 16 percent of students at Stony Brook come from the bottom fifth, compared with 4 percent at the the Ivys, Stony Brook has a bottom-to-top-fifth mobility rate of 8.4 percent, substantially higher than the 2.2 percent rate on average at Ivy League colleges.

In Pennsylvania, the colleges ranked highest for mobility are Lincoln, University of the Sciences, Temple, and Drexel, according to Money. Surprise: The University of Pennsylvania didn’t score well on mobility.

Ranked for earnings, USciences again topped the state list, with an average annual salary of more than $95,000 after graduation, followed by Penn at $79,700; Lehigh at $76,700 a year; Carnegie Mellon at $76,200 a year; Villanova at $73,900; and Bucknell and Lafayette, both about $69,000 a year.

Median earnings for all college graduates were $44,900, according to Money’s methodology.

In New Jersey, top-ranked colleges for mobility started with New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology, followed by the College of New Jersey and Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Ranked for earnings, Stevens topped the list, at an $83,700 salary after graduation, followed by Princeton at $77,900 a year; NJIT at $64,500 a year; TCNJ at $56,000 a year; and Rutgers and Seton Hall, both about $54,000 a year.

The U.S. Department of Education offers something similar with its College Scorecard (collegescorecard.ed.gov), which breaks out salary data. College Scorecard shows where students graduated, which is then linked with earnings data from tax records. But the College Scorecard is not as definitive as its name may suggest: It’s only a ranking of colleges based on student-loan borrowers who got federal aid.

At money.com/colleges, Money magazine also offers a free “Build Your Own Rankings” tool that allows you to sort schools according to the affordability measures that matter most to you.

The fourth annual list of the “Best Colleges for Your Money” is based on a total of 27 measures, including college affordability, student-loan repayment, and alumni earning power. The rankings are a great way to start the conversation with your student about college affordability — and their potential return on education investment.

Inflation down

We checked in with Patricia Healy and John Mousseau at Cumberland Advisors, which manages more than $2 billion in fixed-income assets, in particular municipal bonds, to find out what their expectations are for inflation and interest rates.

What have they noticed? Real yields — that is, the interest rate on bonds after inflation — have been rising faster than nominal yields. Why? Inflation is dropping — at least, official inflation. The core Consumer Price Index has dropped from 2.3 percent at the end of December 2016 to about 1.7 percent currently.

“After the election, the markets expected higher growth rates, cuts in taxes and infrastructure spending. But we don’t have any of that yet,” Mousseau said. Legislative inertia means inflation expectations are starting to dissipate. Note that the peak yield on the 10-year Treasury was 2.6 percent, and after inflation of 2.3 percent, the real yield totaled 0.3 percent, Healy added.

With inflation now lower, real yields are approaching 0.90 percent, Mousseau added. “This should be giving comfort to the Federal Reserve. They can raise rates at their own pace, because inflation isn’t out of control. They can let the Fed’s balance sheet wind down over time. They may not have to raise rates in December. In short, the 10-year yield has risen from 2.10 to 2.40 percent, and the bond market is doing the Fed’s work for it.”