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Best Values in Public Colleges

Most times it's hard to think of the term "value" when it comes to college. The astronomical rise in higher education costs relates more to the Misery Index than to a best-buy mindset. So, what else is new? Things are tough out there. However, there are ways to chisel some costs from those money-monster bills that arrive in parents' mail boxes.

The venerable source,, has come out with their new Best Values in Public Colleges, 2012 selections. So, at least according to Kiplinger's criteria, these schools provide the best all-around mix of educational quality and overall relative low cost. If you're wondering what those evaluation criteria are, here's what they say about that:

Cost and financial aid (33%): We consider low sticker prices, generous need-based aid, and percentage of need met (the extent to which financial aid bridges the gap between the family's expected contribution and the cost of attendance). Student indebtedness (14%): With student borrowing on the rise, we now give extra points for low average debt at graduation and low percentage of students who borrow.

Competitiveness (22%): High test scores among incoming freshmen, a low admission rate and a high yield (the percentage of accepted applicants who enroll) indicate selectivity and intellectual synergy.

Graduation rates (18%): The sooner your kid gets a diploma, the more money you save. We give maximum points for the four-year graduation rate and half that amount for a strong six-year rate.

Academic support (13%): The number of students per faculty and the freshman retention rate measure the school's ability to support its academic mission.

Now that you've seen how Kiplinger weights its criteria, let's take a look at some of the schools that made their Top-10:

1. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: At the top of our rankings for the 11th consecutive time, UNC-Chapel Hill stands out on virtually every measure of quality and affordability, from its highly competitive admission rate (32%) and low student-faculty ratio to its strong graduation rates, moderate sticker price and generous financial aid -- an average of about $11,000 annually for students who qualify ...

3. University of Virginia: This elite institution not only has a competitive admission rate (33%), but also the highest graduation rate. And it stands out for its generous financial aid: UVA is one of the two schools in our rankings that meet the full financial need of enrolled students (the other is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) ...

5. New College of Florida: A small, liberal-arts honors school overlooking Sarasota Bay in Sarasota, New College offers a low student-faculty ratio, a low sticker price and exceptional financial aid: Students who qualify for need-based aid pay only $5,316 a year. Student borrowers graduate with less than $12,000 in average debt ...

7. University of California, Berkeley: The cost may be pricier than many public colleges, but academic quality puts this UC school at the top of the rankings. Its 22% admit rate is the lowest on our list, and the test scores of incoming freshmen are among the highest. Located on the outskirts of San Francisco, Berkeley makes for a pretty nice place to go to school ...

8. University of Maryland, College Park: This land-grant university located in the Washington, D.C., suburbs attracts top students from Maryland and across the country. Incoming freshmen have an average grade point average of about 4.0, and more than one-third of incoming freshmen score 700 or higher on their math SATs ...

10. University of California, San Diego: UC-San Diego charges a lower sticker price than its sister schools in our top-ten rankings and delivers enough financial aid to bring the average cost after need-based aid to only $10,317. Near both the Mexican border and the Pacific Ocean, this top research institution gives students plenty of opportunity for expanding their horizons ...


As Kiplinger notes, "A glance through our top 100 reveals other good deals. North Georgia College and State University (number 88), for instance, runs less than $14,000 a year for in-state students and keeps average debt at graduation to $10,021. And talk about a steal: The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (number 93) charges $11,230 to in-state students and $18,190 to out-of-staters, making it the lowest-cost institution in our rankings.

Those numbers don't even factor in financial aid, which makes tuition affordable at some of the top public institutions in the country. For instance, at the University of Virginia, families who qualify for need-based aid pay an average annual in-state cost of only $5,138, dirt-cheap for this "public Ivy." And here's good news for all the parents of prospective 'Hoos: Because UVA graduates 85% of its students within four years, you likely won't be forking out for an extra year ..."

So, you can see that there are some relatively outstanding bargains out there, if you're willing to do some digging and set aside what may be some "prestige" considerations on your part.

Happy "bargain' hunting!


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