Nov 24, 2012

Shopping for 'Best Values' in Colleges

Yale University

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 possible that colleges can be evaluated in terms of “bang for the buck,” according to Kiplinger’s Magazine.

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 42.8 percent, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Although sticker price continues to rise by an annual average of 3.9 percent (the lowest in at least 40 years), private colleges are aggressively seeking ways to keep tuition increases less painful by increasing institutional aid by an average of 6.2 percent, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).

Obviously, discounts are more prevalent and “value” is greater at wealthier, and usually more selective, private institutions as evidenced by the Kiplinger ranking.

The 2012 College Board “Trends in College Pricing” and “Trends in Student Aid” report that the average net price for tuition and fees at public institutions for 2012-13 was $2,910 when all forms of grant aid and federal tax credits and deductions are factored in. Net price for tuition, fees, and room and board was $12,110. 

At private nonprofit four-year institutions, however, average net price, was $13,380; when cost of room and board is added, the net price was $23,840—almost double that found at public institutions.

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 and yield rates, as well as sticker price, financial aid and student indebtedness. Two lists are generated—private universities and private liberal arts colleges.

Locally, only Washington & Lee University (3) and Christendom College (45) made the top 50 values in liberal arts colleges. The University of Richmond (11), Georgetown University (17), Johns Hopkins University (23), and George Washington University (49) 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’stop 15 values in private universities:

  1. Yale University
  2. Rice University
  3. Princeton University
  4. Duke University
  5. California Institute of Technology
  6. Harvard University
  7. Columbia University
  8. Stanford University
  9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  10. University of Pennsylvania
  11. University of Richmond
  12. Brown University
  13. Vanderbilt University
  14. University of Chicago
  15. Emory University

And the top 15 values in liberal arts colleges:

  1. Swarthmore College
  2. Pomona College
  3. Washington and Lee University
  4. Amherst College
  5. Colgate University
  6. Williams College
  7. Bowdoin College
  8. Davidson College
  9. Vassar College
  10. Haverford College
  11. The Colorado College
  12. Colby College
  13. Middlebury College
  14. Claremont McKenna College
  15. Wellesley College

The complete list of 100 top values in liberal arts colleges or private universities may be found on the Kiplinger website.

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