Which Colleges Give You The Best Value For Your Money?

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Higher education is one of the most expensive investments you will ever make, and probably the most important one. So, be sure to ask the right question when deciding your future – Which college will give me the best value for my money? As this map shows, it’s not necessarily the biggest, coolest, or most elitist school in your state.

The cost of college is rising, but that is not deterring young Americans from pursuing higher education in ever greater numbers. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that no less than 28.3% of 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in four-year higher education courses. That is the second-highest enrollment rate ever, slightly lower than the top enrollment of 30% in 2011. Apart from that downward blip, the trend has historically been upwards, from 17% in 1974 to 21.5% in 1988 and 26% in 2000.

All of this is despite the fact that the total cost of a four-year higher education course – tuition, fees, lodging – over the past 10 years has increased by 37% to $20,000 per year for students at public colleges and universities, and by 25% to $44,000 per annum for students at private institutions, writes Forbes.

Consequently, as shown earlier on HowMuch, U.S. student debt has hit a record high, with the national average recently crossing the $30,000 threshold for the first time. Collectively, U.S. student debt now amounts to $1.2 trillion – about double the annual U.S. defense budget. As the mountain of money needed to get a degree gets taller every year, one may wonder whether college is worth it at all. However, that is the wrong question; Forbes Magazine chose to look at the issue with the rational, calculating detachment of an investor. Together with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, it devised a formula to determine which colleges and universities give you the most educational bang for your buck.

The formula adds up five criteria: the quality of the education (35%; based on Forbes own Top Colleges ranking), the dropout risk (15%; as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System), the graduation success (15%; also IPEDS), post-graduate earnings (25%; mid-career, based on PayScale and the U.S. DoE College Scorecard), and the value added by the particular education (10%; as formulated by the Brookings Institution). This value is weighed against the tuition fees for each institution – i.e. not including room and board. Excluded from the exercise were the five U.S. service academies (e.g. West Point) that charge little or no tuition, instead requiring graduates to complete a minimum tour of duty.

The result? One might expect the Ivy League institutions to dominate the list, but that would be confusing elite with best-value. In fact, the Top 10 of Best-Value Colleges is based more in the West Coast instead of East Coast, counts more public than private schools, and is more oriented towards STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Top 10 best-value colleges (annual tuition)

  1. University of California, Berkeley CA ($12,972)
  2. University of California, Los Angeles CA ($12,705)
  3. Princeton University, Princeton NJ ($41,820)
  4. University of Florida, Gainesville FL ($6,313)
  5. Harvard University, Cambridge MA ($43,938)
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge MA ($45,016)
  7. Stanford University, Stanford CA ($45,195)
  8. University of California, Irvine CA ($13,179)
  9. University of California, Davis CA ($13,896)
  10. Brigham Young University, Provo UT ($5,000)

Keeping in mind that public institutions charge higher fees for out of state students, which are the best-value institutions per state? Excluding the institutions mentioned above, the list below matches the map, but also indicates the overall ranking of each state’s top institution. If you state is not represented, it had no institution in the Top 300 as compiled by Forbes and the CCAP.

Best-value colleges per state (annual tuition)

  1. Duke University, Durham NC ($47,243)
  2. Yale University, New Haven CT ($45,800)
  3. Rice University, Houston TX ($40,566)
  4. Cornell University, Ithaca NY ($47,286)
  5. Dartmouth College, Hanover NH ($48,108)
  6. The University of Virginia, Charlottesville VA ($13,208)
  7. Georgetown University, Washington DC ($46,744)
  8. Brown University, Providence RI ($47,434)
  9. Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN ($43,838)
  10. The University of Chicago, Chicago IL ($49,380) 29. Haverford College, Haverford PA ($47,214)
  11. The University of Washington, Seattle WA ($12,394)
  12. The University of Maryland, College Park MD ($9,427)
  13. The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI ($13,486)
  14. Emory University, Atlanta GA ($45,008)
  15. The University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame IN ($46,237)
  16. Middlebury College, Middlebury VT ($46,044)
  17. Bowdoin College, Brunswick ME ($46,808)
  18. Washington University, St. Louis MO ($46,467)
  19. Carleton College, Northfield MN ($47,736)
  20. Grinnell College, Grinnell IA ($45,620)
  21. The University of Wisconsin, Madison WI ($10,410)
  22. Kenyon College, Gambier OH ($47,330)
  23. Clemson University, Clemson SC ($13,446)
  24. The University of Delaware, Newark DE ($12,342)
  25. The University of Colorado, Boulder CO ($10,789)
  26. Creighton University, Omaha NE ($35,360)
  27. University of Portland, Portland OR ($40,424)
  28. The University of Oklahoma, Norman OK ($9,495)
  29. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge LA ($8,750)
  30. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro NM ($6,256)
  31. The University of Arizona, Tucson AZ ($10,957)
  32. Auburn University, Auburn AL ($10,200)
  33. The University of Wyoming, Laramie WY ($4,646)
  34. The University of Kansas, Lawrence KS ($10,448) 259. Berea College, Berea KY ($24,270)
  35. Brigham Young University-Idaho, Rexburg, ID ($3,950)
  36. The University of Arkansas, Little Rock AR ($8,210)

Check this map against the complete Forbes Top 300 of best-value colleges, and see how high tuition fees don’t necessarily mean you are getting the best value for your money. Take Florida, for example, where the University of Florida in Gainesville (annual tuition: $6,313) gives you the most bang for your buck, and not the University of Miami, with a tuition fee seven times higher, at $44,350.

The inverse can also be true: Duke is the most expensive institution in North Carolina, and of all six listed in the Forbes Top 300, also the one delivering the best return on investment. Ranking colleges and universities for value rather than for quality is an interesting, complex and sometimes counter-intuitive exercise. And one that could teach you a very valuable lesson indeed.

Article by HowMuch

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