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College Rankings

FAQs on Our Best College Value Rankings

Here are the answers to your questions about how we pick the schools on the list.

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Why do you rank public and private colleges together?

Because so many variables affect what you’ll pay for college -- including the type of school your child attends, your eligibility for financial aid, the kind of financial aid the school offers and the school’s sticker price -- it’s critical to start the college search by looking at the universe of colleges and not limit yourself to just private or just public schools. To help you compare your options side by side, Kiplinger presents a combined ranking of colleges, as well as separate rankings for the best values in private universities, private liberal arts colleges and public colleges.

SEE ALSO: Best College Values, 2017

You've given a salary figure for each school on the list. Is that number used to calculate a school’s rank?

No. The figures, which show the median earnings of workers who started at a particular college 10 years earlier and who received federal financial aid, come from the U.S. Department of Education. The data don’t consider whether the workers graduated from college or went on to graduate school. Because of the limitations of this data, we don’t include salary figures in calculating each school's rank on our list.

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Schools such as Bard College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute have appeared in your ranking for years but are no longer listed. What happened?

In our continuing effort to provide the most accurate and complete data available, we have excluded schools that didn’t supply us with all the data we need to calculate their ranking. Here are the schools, listed in alphabetical order: Allegheny College, Assumption College, Bard College, Concordia College, Moravian College, Northeastern University, Simmons College, Stephens College, SUNY Oneonta, Wagner College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best College Values, 2017

Why is the top of your combined list mostly private universities and private liberal arts colleges?

Private schools typically offer more generous financial aid packages than public colleges and score better on quality measures, such as test scores of incoming freshmen and graduation rates.

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Shouldn’t all 50 states be represented in the rankings? My state’s schools don't appear on any of the lists.

In some states, no school meets our criteria for quality and affordability.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017

Do the costs listed in the tables reflect one academic year or all four years of undergraduate study?

One year. Costs reflect the amount each institution charges and the average amount of financial aid offered for one academic year.

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Why didn't you include the military academies, which are not only top schools academically but also tuition-free? They even pay students to attend.

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Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with broad-based curricula and on-campus student housing. Schools that offer great value but focus on specific or narrow academic programs, such as the military academies, are excluded. By the same token, we exclude specialized schools, such as teacher's colleges, schools of law and schools of medicine. Another exception is Cornell University, best known as a member of the Ivy League. Four of Cornell's colleges are part of the privately endowed university, which we consider as a private institution in our rankings. But three of Cornell's Cornell’s undergraduate colleges are land-grant state schools. These schools have been omitted from our rankings because the majority of schools at Cornell are part of the privately endowed university. We have, however, included several schools in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. For many years, schools in the CUNY system were not eligible for our list because we consider the cost of room and board in our rankings, and the CUNY system offered only limited housing. The CUNY system has since beefed up housing on some of its campuses. All of the CUNY schools in our rankings offer on-campus housing.

Why do you divide the private rankings into two lists?

To account for their different missions and to better compare apples to apples, we group private institutions into two categories. One list ranks private liberal arts colleges, which primarily offer bachelor of arts degrees; the other ranks private universities, which educate both graduate and undergraduate students and award a greater number of master's master’s degrees and PhDs than liberal arts colleges.

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SEE ALSO: How We Rank the Schools

Why is Washington and Lee University designated as a liberal arts college if it has "University" in its name?

We rely on the Carnegie Classification system, which distinguishes liberal arts colleges from universities based on their academic mission (see above) rather than their own designation.

I've read that college rankings are based on subjective opinions, not hard data. Is that true?

Unlike other college rankings, ours are based entirely on measurable criteria, such as student-faculty ratios, admission rates, on-time graduation rates, sticker price and financial aid. Neither our opinion nor anyone else's else’s affects the calculations.

SEE ALSO: 11 Ways to Cut the Cost of College Tuition