How to Read the Rankings
Kiplinger's bases its rankings on a combination of academics and
affordability. We start with data from more than 500 public
four-year schools, provided by Peterson's/Nelnet, then add our own
SEE OUR SLIDE SHOW:
10 Top Values in Public Colleges, 2012
We narrow the list to about 120 schools based on measures of
academic quality -- including SAT or ACT scores, admission and
retention rates, student-faculty ratios, and four- and six-year
graduation rates, which most schools reported for the class that
entered in 2004. We then rank each school based on cost and
financial aid. Academic quality carries more weight than costs.
To assess costs, we look at the total expenses for in-state
students (tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, and books); the
average cost for a student with need after subtracting grants (but
not loans); the average cost for a student without need after
subtracting non-need-based grants; the average percentage of need
met by aid; the percentage of students who borrow; and the average
debt per student borrower at graduation.
To determine out-of-state rankings, we run the academic-quality
and expense numbers again, this time using total costs for
out-of-state residents and average costs after financial aid.
Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with
broad-based curricula. As a result, schools that offer great value
but focus on special or narrow academic programs, such as the
military service academies, are excluded. Cornell University, best
known as a member of the Ivy League, is another exception. Four of
Cornell's colleges are part of the privately endowed university,
which we consider a private institution. But three of Cornell's
undergraduate colleges are land-grant state schools that cost much
less -- about $25,000 a year for tuition and fees.
How We Calculate Value
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
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
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.
Marc A. Wojno, Jonny Jaldin, John Miley, Lauren Muthler,
Susannah Snider and Michael Stratford compiled the data.