These are the 42 worst colleges in America 2023

Brandes Gress
Brandes Gress

Brandes Gress assists the content team with the management of daily operational activities, ensures content is published on a timely and accurate basis, and works on content-related projects.

These are the 42 worst colleges in America 2023

    We ranked the worst schools in America using US government data.

    We measured their economic performance and graduation rates to create our list of the worst universities.

    According to our calculations, you might be better off not going to college at all than attending one of these bad colleges.

    Earning a college degree is supposed to set your future up for success. Yes, college is expensive in the United States, but millions of students have taken the leap into higher education in pursuit of a better, wealthier future. We know that not all colleges are created equal, but what if we were to tell you there are colleges in the US that are essentially setting up their students for financial failure?

    At Degreechoices, we have spent countless hours creating a ranking system that shows students the best colleges based on a variety of metrics, culminating in an overall “economic score”. Because we want students to make the best financial decisions, we have flipped our methodology on its head to create a list of the worst-value colleges in the US.

    According to government data, these colleges a have:

    • Outrageously low earnings after graduation
    • Alumni who are in debt for most of their lives
    • Disturbingly low graduation rates

    We looked at 888 schools across the United States to find the worst colleges in America.

    The worst-value colleges in the US

    College is expensive, but students attend in the hopes of eventually securing a more financially stable future. To help America’s prospective college students not mess up this important decision, we put together a list of the worst colleges in America based on our economic score.

    The way our economic score is configured usually means that the lower the score, the better, because it means you’re getting the best value for money. But here, we’re looking at the schools that offer graduates little to no economic value.

    You’d be better off with just a high school diploma than paying for a degree from one of these bad colleges.

    To calculate the worst universities economically, we looked at 888 4-year public, private, and non-profit schools with a student body of over 1,500. They had to be national, liberal arts, or regional universities that offer bachelor’s degrees.

    For reference, the average economic score nationally is 3.73.


    The following 21 schools are the worst universities by economic value.

    When looking at economic scores, it’s easy to misunderstand what precisely they represent. You know you want your economic score to be low, but 8 is a low number compared to 20, and they’re both on this list. So how can you be sure just how bad the worst universities really are?

    Say you’re looking to get your bachelor’s in finance. On our top list, the #1 school is the University of Pennsylvania, with an economic score of 0.27. Less than half of one. Not until you get to position #72 do you start seeing economic scores that reach 2.0, so you can imagine how far down the list you’d have to scroll to reach any of the universities listed above.

    How did a university make this list?

    Our economic score factors in cost, earnings after graduation, and payback period to generate one (hopefully) little number. An ideal university offers high earnings after graduation, a short payback period on your educational investment, and low costs, resulting in a low economic score.

    When assessing the worst universities, we see a general pattern of low earnings after graduation compared to a high annual cost, which creates a longer payback period.

    For example, at our number 1 spot we have Berklee College of Music, which has an annual net cost of $46,805. The average student takes 4.65 years to graduate, so total costs come to $217,643.25 before any kind of financial aid. Meanwhile, the average bachelor’s level Berklee grad can expect to earn just $34,452 annually.

    This university, along with others on our list, offer the delightful combination of high tuition costs and low future earnings, making them a pretty terrible choice of college from an economic perspective.

    Why are HBCUs over-represented on this list?
    Read our analysis on the challenge of ranking HBCUs.

    The colleges with the worst graduation rates

    College is only a good investment if you graduate. To calculate the worst universities based on graduation rate, we examined 888 regional, liberal arts, and national universities that offered bachelor’s degrees. The student body had to be larger than 1,500 people.

    For reference, the average graduation rate for bachelor’s students completing their degree in 8 years or less is 66% across all 4-year institutions.

    The following 21 schools are the worst colleges in the US based on graduation rate.

    Low graduation rates at online universities

    Several contenders on our list of the worst universities by graduation rate are online colleges. It’s harder to hold online students accountable, because they’re more likely to be juggling work and family obligations compared than traditional on-campus students. But not all online universities are created equal.

    Several factors affect an online student’s ability to graduate that are impacted by the online university’s quality:

    • Online course design and structure
    • Support from the online course providers
    • Complexity level of online programs
    • How well instructors facilitate online learning

    Low graduation rates at on-campus universities

    There are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn’t graduate college. Perhaps it’s because of socioeconomic status or personal circumstances, which are out of the university’s control. However, there are other documented reasons why students leave college that are influenced by the university itself:

    • Dissatisfaction with the academic environment
    • Incompatibility with campus values
    • Scarce resources
    • The school’s inability to meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of students

    Food for thought

    Choosing the right college is essential, and to do that you need to think about the economic outcomes of degrees and universities. There are so many universities across the United States that offer exceptional education, setting up their graduates for high earnings and academic and professional success. According to our calculations, these are not them.

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