Nov 28, 2011

Kiplinger Ranks ‘Best Value’ Private Colleges and Universities

Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring out the “shopper” in all of us. As the recession tightens its hold on the economy, bargain-hunters are looking for deals on everything from sweaters to flat screen TV’s.

While shopping for a college education isn’t exactly the same as picking up the Sunday newspaper and circling a few bargains, it’s true that colleges can be evaluated in terms of “bang for the buck,” according to Kiplinger’s Magazine.

“We’re here to help. As always, our 2011-12 rankings for best values in private colleges and universities identify institutions that are both academically strong and affordable—our definition of value.”

And despite the struggling economy, Kiplinger reports that private schools remain competitive and are attracting increasing numbers of low-income students or students who are the first in their family to attend college.

How does this happen? Call it what you will—blue light specials or Cyber Monday bargains—private colleges are discounting tuition rates for freshmen by an average of 49 percent, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Although sticker price continues to rise by an annual average of about 4.5 percent, the price tag at private institutions is becoming less relevant as colleges continue to slash prices, even to the point of actually reducing tuition as in the recent announcement from the University of Charleston.

While the average cost of a year at a four-year private school runs about $36,000 as compared with $21,000 a decade ago, the cost after financial aid puts total out-of-pocket cost at about $22,000.

College administrators and policymakers may consider the discount level “unsustainable," but for now, “the money is on the table, and students are grabbing it.”

To help students and families evaluate colleges in terms of value, Kiplinger’s ranking takes into account four-year graduation rates, freshmen retention, student-faculty ratios, admission rates, as well as sticker price and financial aid. Two lists are generated—private universities and private liberal arts colleges.

Locally, only Washington & Lee University made the top 50 values in liberal arts colleges, earning the second place spot on the list. The University of Richmond (12), Georgetown University (17), Johns Hopkins University (25), George Washington University (32), and American University (47) were among the top 50 values in private universities.

While heavily biased toward colleges with large endowments and the ability to offer strong financial aid, the following are Kiplinger’s top 15 values in private universities:

  1. Princeton University
  2. Yale University
  3. Cal Tech
  4. Rice University
  5. Harvard University
  6. University of Pennsylvania
  7. Duke University
  8. Columbia University
  9. MIT
  10. Stanford University
  11. Brown University
  12. University of Richmond
  13. Emory University
  14. Dartmouth College
  15. Washington University in St. Louis

And the top 15 values in liberal arts colleges:

  1. Pomona College
  2. Washington and Lee University
  3. Swarthmore College
  4. Williams College
  5. Davidson College
  6. Hamilton College
  7. Vassar College
  8. Wellesley College
  9. Bowdoin College
  10. Amherst College
  11. The Colorado College
  12. Haverford College
  13. College of the Holy Cross
  14. Wesleyan University
  15. Grinnell College

The complete list of 200 top values in liberal arts colleges or private universities may be found on the Kiplinger website.

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