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What's your Minnesota college degree worth?

These are Minnesota's highest achieving and charging colleges.

These are Minnesota's highest achieving and charging colleges.

Earlier this month the White House unveiled its two-years-in-the-making College Scorecard database. The website aims to help parents and students determine “where you can get the most educational bang for your buck,” as President Obama billed it in his 2013 State of the Union address.

Initially, the idea was to rate and rank America’s higher ed institutions, with talk that scores could be tied to federal aid. After school presidents cried foul, contending there was no way to rank schools with disparate missions and sizes on an even plane, the final product avoids an official grade and has no bearing on aid qualifications.

However, it offers a look at what the most expensive piece of paper you’ll ever earn might be worth.

The sortable database tracks school stats in three main categories — average annual cost, graduation rate, and median salary after attending. Here are Minnesota’s highest achievers/chargers compared to the national average.

Highest average annual cost — national average: $16,789

McNally Smith College of Music: $33,705

University of St. Thomas: $31,482

Carleton College: $28,734

Dunwoody College of Technology: $27,096

Duluth Business University: $26,774

Top graduation rates — national average: 44 percent

Carleton College: 93 percent

Macalester College: 89 percent

St. Olaf College: 87 percent

Minneapolis Business College: 86 percent

Gustavus Adolphus College: 83 percent

Highest median salaries after attending — national average: $34,343

Capella University: $69,500

Saint John’s University: $55,900

Walden University: $54,900

University of St. Thomas: $54,300

University of Phoenix-Minneapolis/St. Paul: $53,400

Gustavus Adolphus College: $50,100

Okay, so the salary numbers deserve the scrutiny of a Halliburton bill sent to the Pentagon. Three for-profit schools made the list — Capella, Walden, and the University of Phoenix. Given the industry's notoriety for suckering the most gullible students into heavy debt for worthless degrees, any claims about their graduates' earning power should come with a flaming BUYER BEWARE! warning. 

But the private school premium seems to pay off for the Johnies. Graduates go on to earn more than double the $22,866 they coughed up each year to study in Collegeville. The University of Minnesota also looks like a decent value play, as ex-Gophers pull down $47,800 a year, after paying a hair over the national average.

Not entirely shocking, community colleges churning out transfer students (Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 15 percent) and certain for-profit schools with annoying TV jingles (National American University-Brooklyn Center, 12 percent) had some of the lowest graduation rates in the state.

Of course, the scorecard isn’t kind to everyone. Grads from the tiny Duluth Business University make less than one year’s cost of attendance and almost $9,000 less than the national average. McNally Smith College of Music, which registers as the Minnesota’s spendiest school at more than double the national average, sees former students earning only $30,300 per year — one of the lowest rates in the state.

However, President Harry Chalmiers says the federal data used gives McNally a bad rap. With small class sizes, one-on-one lessons, and nearly $1 million mixing boards, music educations aren’t cheap.

“A big class here is 20,” he says. “If you look at universities and even some esteemed colleges, they often have classes with hundreds of people in a major lecture hall. You can’t teach music that way. So it’s a highly personalized education, which makes the cost higher.”

Furthermore, Chalmiers says McNally is much cheaper than other top music schools and has roughly tripled its scholarship and financial aid budget since the 2012-13 academic year — the last year included in the data, he says.

As for the earning figures, which tracked students' wages six and 10 years after they started school, the prez counters that McNally has since added bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, helping increase grads’ salaries.

“Beneath the surface, there are things that have a real impact on this that make it appear very misleading,” Chalmiers says.