The 9 Worst Colleges in the U.S.

Updated on January 15, 2019
BillAlvarez profile image

Bill Alvarez enjoys researching a wide range of topics, including history, popular culture, and computer software.

College is an investment in the future, but some investments are better than others.
College is an investment in the future, but some investments are better than others. | Source

What Makes a University the Worst?

What makes a college bad? The answer may vary depending on who you ask, and the list below is not meant to be authoritative—although I am sure it will be controversial to some.

The universities on this list were chosen according to whether they stood out regarding my personally chosen criteria, including:

  • ROI (return on investment over 20 years)
  • Graduation rate (within 6 years)
  • Average student debt
  • Median starting income
  • Annual cost (including tuition, fees, room, and board)
  • CollegeFactual overall ranking

For this list, I have considered only universities that are regionally accredited, located in the United States, and for which relevant data is available. I have excluded community colleges, military academies, and for-profit institutions such as DeVry and the University of Phoenix.

My main sources of information are U.S. News & World Report, PayScale, CollegeFactual, and RateMyProfessors. I have indicated below which data comes from which source. In all cases, I have used the most recent available data.

For the sake of equity, I have listed the following colleges in alphabetical order.

The 9 Worst Colleges in America

  1. Fayetteville State University
  2. Florida Memorial University
  3. Grambling State University
  4. Lindsey Wilson College
  5. Morris College
  6. University of the District of Columbia
  7. University of Montevallo
  8. University of South Carolina, Aiken
  9. Shaw University

1. Fayetteville State University

Fayetteville State University is situated in urban Fayetteville, North Carolina. Founded in 1867, this public institution has an undergraduate enrollment of 5,393, and its gender balance is 60% women to 40% men. Reviewing the school, one student wrote: "The staff and the faculty are uncaring.... Look up the crime rate; it's [in] the worst area in Fayetteville."

  • ROI: $29,500
  • Graduation rate: 33%
  • Average student debt: $21,304
  • Median starting income: $38,000
  • Annual cost: $13,151 (in-state); $24,759 (out-of-state)
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1433 (out of 1779)

2. Florida Memorial University

Founded in 1879, Florida Memorial University is located in urban Miami, Florida. This private school has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,669, of which 63% are women and 37% are men. One student reviewer wrote: "The teachers are very disrespectful and unfair to the students and [they are] setting the students up for failure. I would not recommend [that] anyone come here."

  • ROI: -$64,000
  • Graduation rate: 38%
  • Average student debt: $30,160
  • Median starting income: $36,600
  • Annual cost: $22,270
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1553 (out of 1779)

Grambling State University
Grambling State University | Source

3. Grambling State University

Located in rural Grambling, Louisiana, Grambling State University is a public institution that was founded in 1901. Its undergraduate enrollment is 4,076, of which 58% are women and 42% are men. Reviewing the school, one student wrote: "This campus is a complete joke.... Some teachers are helpful; however, this campus is not safe at all. Too many people with guns and drugs. Way too many people hanging out on campus that aren't enrolled here."

  • ROI: $61,100
  • Graduation rate: 35%
  • Average student debt: $25,732
  • Median starting income: $43,800
  • Annual cost: $17,489
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1614 (out of 1779)

4. Lindsey Wilson College

Founded in 1903 and located in Columbia, Kentucky, Lindsey Wilson College is a private institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Its undergraduate enrollment is 2,585, and the gender balance is 61% women to 39% men. One student describes the school this way: "If you're from rural Kentucky, this is the school for you. Anybody [from] outside the Bible Belt will find it hard to adapt."

  • ROI: -$160,800
  • Graduation rate: 31%
  • Average student debt: $21,000
  • Median starting income: $38,500
  • Annual cost: $34,235
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1571 (out of 1779)

5. Morris College

Situated in rural Sumter, South Carolina, Morris College is a private institution affiliated with the Baptist Church. It was founded in 1908, and it has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,200, of which 55% are women and 45% are men. From a student review: "They are very far behind in technology and other things that a lot of [other] schools have upgraded to. It has a feel of being stuck in the 1970s."

  • ROI: -$106,800
  • Graduation rate: 29%
  • Average student debt: $26,000
  • Median starting income: $32,300
  • Annual cost: $19,919
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1585 (out of 1779)

University of the District of Columbia
University of the District of Columbia | Source

6. University of the District of Columbia

The University of the District of Columbia is located in urban Washington, DC. Founded in 1976, this public institution has an undergraduate enrollment of 3,859 with a gender balance of 57% women to 43% men. One student reviewer summed it up this way: "Unless you have no other choice, go somewhere else."

  • ROI: [data not available]
  • Graduation rate: 32%
  • Average student debt: $22,120
  • Median starting income: $51,300
  • Annual cost: $23,071 (in-state); $29,599 (out-of-state)
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1564 (out of 1779)

University of Montevallo
University of Montevallo | Source

7. University of Montevallo

Founded in 1896, University of Montevallo is located in rural Montevallo, Alabama. It is a public university with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,346, of which 67% are women and 33% are men. Reviewing the school, one student wrote: "Their quote 'You Belong at Montevallo' is a joke. Most people I talk to feel super isolated and leave on the weekends."

  • ROI: -$20,200
  • Graduation rate: 47%
  • Average student debt: $25,484
  • Median starting income: $38,300
  • Annual cost: $22,090 (in-state); $35,110 (out-of-state)
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1007 (out of 1779)

University of South Carolina, Aiken
University of South Carolina, Aiken | Source

8. University of South Carolina, Aiken

Founded in 1961, the University of South Carolina at Aiken is located in suburban Aiken, South Carolina. This public institution has an undergraduate enrollment of 3,354; the gender balance is 64% women to 36% men. One student reviewer wrote: "Very boring here—there's nothing to do on campus or in the Aiken area. It's like an old retirement town.... The people are standoffish. It's everybody for themselves here. I hate it!"

  • ROI: -$28,100
  • Graduation rate: 41%
  • Average student debt: $24,692
  • Median starting income: $41,100
  • Annual cost: $18,526 (in-state); $28,984 (out-of-state)
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1178 (out of 1779)

Shaw University
Shaw University | Source

9. Shaw University

Founded in 1865, Shaw University is a private institution located in urban Raleigh, North Carolina. It has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,546 with a gender balance of 58% women to 42% men. One student reviewer wrote: "Shaw University is a terrible institution. #transfer."

  • ROI: -$93,600
  • Graduation rate: 23%
  • Average student debt: $28,144
  • Median starting income: $36,900
  • Annual cost: $24,638
  • CollegeFactual ranking: #1774 (out of 1779)

Do you think a college education is worth the financial sacrifice?

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A Closer Look at the Measures

There are a near infinite number of ways to compare colleges, so you might wonder why I chose to pay close attention to the small handful of measures I did. Let's take a look at each one in turn.

ROI: Return on Investment

College is an investment in the future. The assumption is that by spending a large amount of money and time to earn a college degree, graduates will be able to get significantly better jobs and earn much more money over the course of their careers, relative to what they would have been able to do with only a high school degree.

ROI, or return on investment, is a way to measure the value of a college degree. PayScale defines ROI as the total earnings, minus the cost of the degree, minus the earnings a similar person with only a high school education would have made over the same period of time.

Graduation Rate

It's probably a safe assumption that everyone who enrolls in college hopes to one day graduate with a degree in hand. That's why it's important to look at a school's graduation rate (the numbers cited in this article refer to graduation within six years of matriculation).

If you look at a school that has a graduation rate of 22%, for example, that means that 78% of students don't graduate within six years! That's a huge exodus of students over the years. Granted, we don't always know why all of those students might have left; it's possible that some took seven or eight years to finish, or it's possible that some transferred to (and graduated from) another school. Often, however, a low graduation rate is indicative of unhappy students, poor support systems at the college, fees that are too high, or some combination thereof.

Average Student Debt

Students graduating with heavy student debt has become an enormous problem in this country. It can be very difficult for newly minted college grads to get started in life if they are weighed down by crushing student loan payments every month. Unless they happen to be in high-paying professions, it may feel like it will take forever to pay off the debt, and some may even question if taking on the loans in order to go to school was even worth it.

In general, it's best to try to minimize debt, but of course students need to weigh the future earnings that are possible with the degree. This is where ROI can be an important measure to consider.

Median Starting Income

We all know that incomes vary greatly from profession to profession, and also from one part of the country to the next, so looking at median starting income needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But you can still look at this number as a very general indicator of the salary potential of a degree from a particular school.

Annual Cost

College isn't cheap—but there's enormous variation in costs from one institution to the next. Private schools are generally more expensive than public schools, and within the latter category, out-of-state tuition is almost always more expensive than in-state tuition (rarely, out-of-state and in-state fees are the same).

CollegeFactual Ranking

CollegeFactual produces a nationwide ranking of nearly 1,800 schools. (Arguably, U.S. News & World Report's rankings are more famous—but they divide up the schools into categories to produce separate rankings for national universities, liberal arts colleges, regional colleges, etc.).

On the other hand, if we are interested in comparing all U.S. schools in one large group, we can look to CollegeFactual, which generates its rankings by looking at 11 different factors that are encompassed within these four areas: student body caliber, educational resources, degree completion, and post-graduation earnings.

Sources

  • CollegeFactual - I used this source for average student debt and overall rankings.
  • PayScale - I referred to this source for 20-year net ROI and median starting income.
  • RateMyProfessors - I cited this source for student reviews.
  • U.S. News & World Report - I used this source for graduation rates, costs (tuition, fees, room, and board), and general information (location, founding year, public vs. private status, undergraduate enrollment, and gender balance).

(All sources accessed Jan. 15, 2019.)

Further Reading

Adams, Susan. "The 25 Colleges With the Worst Return on Investment." Forbes. Nov. 12, 2013. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Berman, Dan. "30 Colleges for Worst ROI: 2016." ThinkAdvisor. May 5, 2016. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Coplan, Jill Hamburg. "Colleges That Offer the Best—and Worst—Bang for the Buck." Fortune. April 7, 2016. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Giang, Vivian. "13 Colleges That Aren't Worth the Money." Business Insider. May 4, 2013. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Kulikowski, Laurie. "20 Colleges Where Your Return on Investment Is Terrible." The Street. June 5, 2016. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Miller, Ben. "America's Worst Colleges." Washington Monthly. September/October 2014. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Sydlansky, Paul. "Calculating the ROI of a College Education." Investopedia. May 22, 2018. Accessed Jan. 15, 2019.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        3 days ago from U.S.A.

        Oddly enough, Fayetteville State and Shaw University are only about an hour away from each other. Interestingly enough, Fayetteville State is a part of the Unc system of universities. It goes to show the differences in financial support received by the flagship university (UNC-Chapel Hill) and the other schools in the system. I would suspect that would be consistent across many of these schools, especially, if they are ran by the state.

        Honestly, I'm glad I attended Unc-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University.

        Great article with interesting information.

        Sincerely,

        tim

      • profile image

        Eyewitness 

        7 days ago

        I took pictures for track meets in high school. We went to Grambling. It’s like a housing project but with classrooms. There is literally gang activity among students. No one graduates. They got a good band though.

      • profile image

        9 Year Old 

        5 weeks ago

        Lmao go to MIT

        Massachusetts institute of technology

        Michigan institute of technology

        Montana institute of technology

        Etc.

      • profile image

        college student 

        5 weeks ago

        why does having a high rate of male students contribute to a school being the worst? My college was all girls until 5 years ago, and we're 70% women and 30% men currently, but I doubt if my school was on a list like this (but we're great so that wouldn't happen lmao) that stat wouldn't be mentioned. sexist, sexist article...

      • profile image

        asfd 

        6 weeks ago

        dad is tooooooo hard

      • profile image

        SamsonChai 

        2 months ago

        I’m currently studying at the University of Michigan

      • profile image

        Rebecca-Anne Sakura Anzai Stewart-Jackson 

        2 months ago

        Wow, these colleges are terrible. Thank god I took 12 AP classes in high school in got a FULL RIDE to Yale!

      • profile image

        jds;lfajf;la 

        2 months ago

        Nice, I got into Princeton for mathematics

      • profile image

        luketran11 

        2 months ago

        Going to MIT. Got full ride

      • profile image

        Julia Playda 

        2 months ago

        It's a good thing I'm going to BYU University.

      • profile image

        Hun Terkey 

        2 months ago

        Wow, these schools are pretty bad. Luckily I am going to caltech.

      • profile image

        Consumer 

        2 months ago

        Fort Hayes State University can't be too far from one of the worst.

      • profile image

        Blue Demon 

        3 months ago

        I think DePaul University in Chicago should be number 1 among the worst school in the nation. It is ranked at 257 and it only has a 50 % graduation rate. Guess how many are Black?

        Sources:

        https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/depaul-univer...

        https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-univers...

      • profile image

        Southern Heritage 

        3 months ago

        Ironic how most are HBCU's

      • profile image

        Mr Incredible 

        3 months ago

        It's showtime

      • profile image

        Cyprus Finer 

        3 months ago

        I love Florida Memorial University. My grand dad was buried here

      • profile image

        SuperUniPoop 

        3 months ago

        Give people with a sad life a chance make college free!

      • profile image

        Elian Pimentel 

        4 months ago

        i hate brown university

      • profile image

        Doug 

        6 months ago

        Providence college should be on this list. This small minded 99% white school has terrible courses and teachers and just an overall backward way of thinking.

      • profile image

        Saleem Agha 

        7 months ago

        The City College Cuny is the worst school ever. One Uyar who teaches computer engineering is a scab and a dull witted person, whose knowledge of computers is less than that of a goat!

      • profile image

        Wm. Hodgson 

        8 months ago

        Capella University should be on this list

      • profile image

        Gycfddgggfcht 

        8 months ago

        Why are these bad colleges?????? Tell me now, NOW. Please?

      • profile image

        EZWinFornite 

        10 months ago

        Where is harvard at?

      • profile image

        IHATENCSTAE 

        11 months ago

        ummmmmm ive seen worse

      • profile image

        MCSM DROPOUT 

        11 months ago

        I am afraid to say that these are not the worst colleges out there. The worst college in fact is Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. The teachers are very obese and do not speak very much English. I don't speak autism so I cannot understand what they are saying most of the time. I advise that no one ever attend such a horrendous institution. Also my mixtape is coming out soon. Wait for "I'm a Humble Fucking Beast" coming to stores near you soon.

      • profile image

        Diane Mcvey 

        11 months ago

        Add Drew University to that list! Most inefficient administration and at the same time one of the most expensive! Don't go!

      • profile image

        On The Edge 

        11 months ago

        Louisiana Tech University is one of the worst colleges. Everyone grits their teeth and grins while wishing they were dead, all the while knowing they can't die because they've sold their souls to the place.

      • profile image

        isaylee 

        12 months ago

        good

      • profile image

        Lil Pump 

        14 months ago

        I got into every ivy league, and I got into Stanford. However, education isn't important in life. I decided to not attend college at all.

      • profile image

        Bob Smith 

        14 months ago

        I don't know of any terrible colleges, but i view college in general to be useful-- if u allow it to be. It all depends on your scenario, major,etc. i.e if u are majoring in something with no employment, and party all four years and take out $100,000 + loans, then its pointless. However if u are majoring in a good field ( Medical, engineering, accounting, etc) and take it seriously then it will be a great time!

      • profile image

        ask bout me 

        16 months ago

        Southern has the best BAND tho!

      • profile image

        Bill Nye 

        16 months ago

        I think college is stupid. College didn't teach anyone anyhting :) :) :) :) :)

      • profile image

        ips delivery 

        16 months ago

        the worst colleges are the one s who accept everyone this is why homeschooling is the best one on one sesions

        jk

      • profile image

        chris boi 101 

        17 months ago

        i,m so going to new mexico coolage

      • profile image

        Jay Martin 

        17 months ago

        DeVry university is the worst scam fake university to attend. Lost over 100 Grand and they put me as withdrawn instead of graduated eventhough I have a diploma.

      • profile image

        Koadey Kambell 

        18 months ago

        I nominate Point Park University as the worst University in the country. I literally felt that I got nothing out of my degree, and the classes are not relevant and I feel that I will have to attend Grad School and hopefully, make up for the slack caused by Point Park.

        Also, they won't give a student a job on campus based off of a certain race, gender, and sexuality and even a professor admitted they don't like to hire minorities into faculty. To add to their racist demeanor, they didn't use to not have MLK day off and once serviced fried chicken, collard green, watermelon, and cornbread for Black history month.

        Not to mention, the campus is a disaster, I've had my life threatened by two staff and my credit card used by another fraudulently. Not to mention, the security let in intruders and police have ignored all of complaints. They also don't like to accommodate students with disabilities, they will tell them "you're just making excuses". When I visited Detroit, I felt safer there than I did on campus.

      • profile image

        Good morning 

        19 months ago

        I thought India has the worst colleges but....

      • profile image

        kk 

        19 months ago

        this a nice and cool website

      • profile image

        Mac 

        20 months ago

        In my opinion, this is a very inaccurate article! I have worked with smart people who have graduated from both SDSU and UNM and they are able to hold their own against, and often outperform graduates from more prestigious schools (UC Berkeley, Purdue, etc...). Also, if campus safety is a factor, how come USC or John Hopkins are not on the list?

      • profile image

        Ray 

        20 months ago

        How does a low graduation rate lead to a university being bad? I would think it was the opposite way, a university that lets all students graduate regardless of their academic merit is truly bad and one that has a lower graduation rate would tend to be better (Especially if it is also difficult to enter).

      • profile image

        xFlameThrower 

        20 months ago

        Using Website for one of my projects for school. Thanks

      • profile image

        Josh 

        2 years ago

        Take a look at Winona State in Winona, MN.

        Their Facebook page has a ton of negative reviews regarding bullying and bad teachers.

        I myself have been stalked by professors from here because they're worried about what I say regarding the Unviersity.

      • profile image

        logan 

        2 years ago

        my thing is dont let negtive get to you i go to duke

      • profile image

        Jaysarh 

        2 years ago

        This is the most inaccurate article and the validity of it is completely false

      • profile image

        CheddarCheese 

        2 years ago

        I know it's not a college- but the worst school I HAVE EVER KNOWN is far worse than these. It is Coleman Middle School in Tampa, Florida. The administration at this poop dump break the law all the time and cover each other's butts to avoid punishment. The Principal is a BULLY. He bullies students and misuses power. The guidance counselor are so rude and disrespectful to everyone. The administration does illegal stuff all the time like violate the 1st Amendment and Title IX. There is so much nepotism and cronyism and corruption there it is unbelievable. The school is rated and A school though because it is in an affluent neighborhood and parents can pay for extra tutoring, etc. I learned a lot from this school- but not from the curriculum. I learned about LAW from having to REPORT all the ILLEGAL things the administration does!!! Don't be fooled by this place.

      • erinshelby profile image

        erinshelby 

        2 years ago from United States

        What an interesting hub! As the cost of college continues to rise, more folks will be interested in the return on their investments... it will be necessary to scrutinize how much of a benefit the college degree will really be.

      • profile image

        Elisabeth 

        2 years ago

        Anyone heard of or attended University of Hartforf,ct ?

        Thanks for any unbiased information.

      • profile image

        ninacalada 

        2 years ago

        Of course Capella University is bad, it's a for-profit school

      • DebraHargrove profile image

        Debra Hargrove 

        3 years ago from North Carolina

        Funny Hub, I wouldn't have the nerve to write about the worst college. That takes lots of courage.

      • profile image

        PHD 

        3 years ago

        Do not go to Nyack College. 40 percent graduation rate. $90 thousand tuition for 4 years. Limited faculty and resources and poor quality of education and it is equivalent to a High School education. Might as well save your time and money for post-graduate studies at a better institution.

      • profile image

        HorribleSchool 

        4 years ago

        DO NOT GO TO CAPELLA UNIVERSITY! I wasted 7 years and $80,000 + and got straight A's and they still would not let me graduate. THE DEGREE IS WORTHLESS ANYWAY and that is why they will not let you graduate so that no one finds out the degree is worthless. DO NOT GO TO CAPELLA UNIVERSITY! Capella University will not teach you anything!

      • TimArends profile image

        Timothy Arends 

        4 years ago from Chicago Region

        Interesting hub! It seems to me that, if there is one constant involved here, it is that the most poorly rated universities tend to be in the lowest quality, Most crime ridden regions of the country. Such low-quality regions are also going to draw low-quality students.

      • BillAlvarez profile imageAUTHOR

        Bill Alvarez 

        4 years ago

        Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. Just as important as knowing what college(s) to go to is knowing which ones to avoid!

      • Rebeccasutton profile image

        Rebecca Sutton 

        4 years ago from Rock Hill, SC

        I hope this doesn't sound negative, but it is nice to see an article that isn't all hype about how great one school or another is. I think your article puts things into a realists perspective and is something students need to consider. Good work!

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