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10 Best Values in U.S. Colleges, 2016

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These 10 schools represent the top-scoring schools on our combined rankings, which compare private universities, private liberal arts colleges and public colleges (based on out-of-state costs) to help you see your options side by side. We rank our full list of 300 colleges and universities based on our definition of value: a quality education at an affordable price. Among the factors we consider for academic quality: competitive admission rates, high four-year graduation rates and low student-faculty ratios. On the cost side of the equation, we look for schools with a reasonable price tag, generous need-based aid for students who qualify, and low student debt.

This year, for the first time, we present future earnings data for each school on our best values list as a starting point to estimate your student’s post-graduation earnings. The figures, which show the median earnings of workers who started at a particular college 10 years earlier and received federal financial aid, come from the U.S. Department of Education. The data do not consider whether the workers graduated from college or went on to graduate school. Because of these limitations, we don't include these figures in calculating each school's rank on our list.

In 2015–2016, the average sticker price of a private college or university is $43,921, according to the College Board. Meanwhile, the average sticker price for out-of-state students at public colleges is $34,031. Despite their higher price tags, private liberal arts colleges and private universities dominate the top spots on our combined list. Private colleges perform well in our rankings because they typically have higher graduation rates and more generous financial aid packages than public institutions—making a private education at some colleges more affordable than the school’s sticker price suggests. When we published our first combined college ranking last year, none of the public schools piled up enough points to score a spot in the top 10. But this year, one public university—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—shows up as number 10 on our combined list. Take a look.

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