The Virginia Tech department of political science was recently ranked as one of the top-20 most valuable undergraduate degree programs in the nation.
Affordable Colleges Online ranked Tech’s political science department 13th for high returns on investment. The site calculated that Tech students graduating with a degree in political science averaged a 30-year return on investment of $763,700.
The Department Head, Tim Luke, said this was a trend that the department has seen in recent years.
“Both students and parents are interested in seeing what the advantage of studying at this school and that school in A-discipline versus B-discipline,” Luke said. “The results were not terribly surprising because we’ve seen comparable studies in the past couple of years.”
According to Luke, the university has also received rankings regarding educational value of degree from PayScale.com, which ranked Tech 24th overall in salary potential, citing starting salaries of $51,700 and mid-career salaries of $94,200. More specifically, political science graduates in general, according to PayScale, saw a 91.7 percent salary increase from starting to mid-career.
In addition, Affordable Colleges Online ranked the university fifth overall in the country in affordable colleges with high returns, falling behind Georgia Tech, the State University of New York at New Paltz, the University of Virginia and Texas A&M. Fellow Virginia school William and Mary ranked just behind Tech at sixth.
Larry Hincker, associate vice president of university relations, expressed praise of the political science department’s new ranking.
“We get a lot of these rankings, and it’s gratifying that we see programs that normally wouldn’t get a ranking because normally they are ranking schools,” Hincker said. “But in this case, they ranked the department, and it’s gratifying to see a department recognized for basically academic excellence. It’s giving us a value ranking, saying this is going to be your return on investment.”
However, Hincker said the methodology is important when looking at these rankings.
The Affordable College Online ranking system considered four-year in-state tuition less than $40,000 at public and private non-profit schools that are fully accredited institutions. In addition, the survey used PayScale.com data to determine 30-year net-return on investment, which is published annually.
The PayScale.com salary report considers only college graduates possessing bachelor’s degree that are employed full-time, aren’t on active duty in the military and must be paid with either an hourly wage or an annual salary. This data was collected from a sample of between 100 to several thousand alumni, depending on the size of the university.
Hincker said these ratings can be skewed, citing that the PayScale survey considered out-of-state cost of tuition, even though only about 25 percent of the student body is from out of state.
Luke said that much of the success of political science graduates has much to do with residing in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“One thing that is quite clear is that — for better or for worse — one of the main employers in the commonwealth is the government,” Luke said. “The federal government, the commonwealth’s government, county and city governments, as well as the military are a large base of employers in this state.”
Luke also said the rankings illuminate the strength of the humanities, the social sciences and the arts at a technical university.
“I think just as (the University of) Virginia is getting stronger in engineering and William and Mary has strong science departments, Virginia Tech has very strong programs in the social sciences, humanities and the arts,” Luke said. “I think (these rankings) are advantageous because obviously most people think the only thing happening at Virginia Tech is ‘tech.’”