I did a quick plot of the top 50 schools on the Payscale list versus the 25th percentile SAT scores of incoming students, and some schools definitely do better than others. I also resorted the list by annualized rate of return, and plotted the top 50 again, and the public schools do much better on rate of return than on 30 year net return.By the way, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo didn't have affirmative action last time I checked because it's in the second-tier Cal State system. Proposition 209 outlawed racial preferences in California in 1996, so the top tier University of California colleges responded by imposing "holistic admissions" where you submit an essay about how The Man Has Been Keeping You Down so the admissions officer can guess your ethnicity. But the Cal State system can't afford too many admissions staffers, so they just use the same system UC used to use: GPA and test scores. Nobody much cares about the other Cal State schools, but Cal Poly SLO is worth caring about so MALDEF sued it for not discriminating.
The same schools stand out on both lists:
Georgia Institute of Technology University of Virginia (UVA) Brigham Young University (BYU) Colorado School of Mines College of William and Mary University of California, Berkeley University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) University of Michigan Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) University of Florida (UF) University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNCH) California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (CalPoly)
All public schools with strong engineering and science programs, except for BYU, but they produce good engineers too. These schools are probably good options if you live in state, especially since there are often incentive programs to keep academically talented students at state universities. And they are a lot cheaper than the top private schools on the list