It could just be the best public college you've never heard of, with prices so low that it's a steal even for out-of-state students.
SUNY Geneseo, a small liberal arts college in western New York, boasts top students, a scenic campus, strong programs in both arts and sciences, and new dorms with -- drumroll, please -- washers and dryers on every floor. It adjoins a historic village with killer quaintness and puts students within 30 miles of Rochester, a major college town.
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What's missing at Geneseo? Arguably, only the buzz that impels some parents to pay two or even three times as much for the same features at a private college.
That's good news for parents who want quality and affordability -- and the reason that Geneseo qualifies as one of the top ten best values in public colleges and universities in Kiplinger's annual rankings. This year, Geneseo ranks number one for out-of-state value and number six for in-state value. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a premier research institution with a mission to meet the full financial need of its students, gets top honors for in-state students for the seventh time in a row. Here's the better news: Most students don't have to go beyond their state borders to find a great public program.
About three-fourths of the states claim at least one top performer among the 100 schools on our honor roll, and many states boast several. High school students who live in the north and despise the snow, and southerners who want to trade their flip-flops for Uggs, also have attractive options. UNC at Asheville, number 40 on our list, carries an annual out-of-state sticker price of $22,234 in total costs. The University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, number 39, gives out-of-state students Cheesehead status for less than $19,000.
Several schools moved up dramatically in our rankings from last year. For instance, Indiana University-Bloomington jumped 21 slots, to number 34, thanks in part to improved test scores for incoming freshmen, more-generous financial aid and a lower average debt at graduation. Ohio State moved up 25 slots, to 37, owing to better ACT scores among incoming freshmen and a lower cost (after need-based aid was factored in) for in-state students. A more competitive admission rate, plus better test scores, moved the University of South Carolina from number 51 up to 35.
PRICES HEAD NORTH
Geneseo president Christopher Dahl firmly believes "there's no reason why the state of New York shouldn't offer its residents the same education that would cost $45,000 to $50,000 at a private school. It's elitist to argue that state residents shouldn't have access to an outstanding education at a reasonable price." Dahl's school makes good on that proposition. In-state students pay $4,350 in tuition and total costs of about $15,000. Out-of-staters pay $10,610 in tuition and $21,226 total.
Lately, however, public colleges have been challenged to deliver that kind of deal in the face of climbing enrollment and competing demands for state funding -- especially for kindergarten through 12th grade. Efforts to boost achievement at younger ages mean that higher ed has had to settle for less money, says Ross Hodel, director of the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. "The mind-set is that higher education is more of an individual benefit than a benefit to society, and higher-education people can take care of themselves."