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We rank Kiplinger's top 100 public colleges and universities based on measures of academic quality and affordability -- among them, low student-faculty ratios, high graduation rates, reasonable price tags and rich financial aid, including need-based aid (grants, not loans) for students who qualify. These ten schools are the cream of the crop of that already-elite list.
In 2014, tuition increases are slowing for in-state students at public colleges, but faltering financial aid means that the net price -- what students actually pay -- increased this year by almost 2%. But staying in-state remains an effective way to keep college costs down. The average total in-state cost this year, at $18,391, is nearly half the $31,701 price of studying out of state.
Our rankings are based on in-state costs. These top 10 schools range from small colleges to immense flagship universities, but they have one thing in common: They all deliver the most academic bang for your buck. Take a look.
By Susannah Snider, Staff Writer
| December 2013
Moliverg via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 18,503
Student-faculty ratio: 14:1 (top-100 median, 17:1)
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 77%; 6-yr., 90% (natl. avg., 4-yr., 32%; 6-yr., 53%)
Annual total in-state cost: $19,676 (natl. avg., $18,391 for tuition, fees, room and board)
Annual total out-of-state cost: $41,458 (natl. avg., $31.701)
Avg. debt at graduation: $16,983 (natl. avg., $29,400 for 2012)
The Tar Heels are number one for the 13th time – as many times as Kiplinger’s has ranked public colleges.
UNC is the only school on our list to meet 100% of financial need, slashing its $19,676 total cost to $6,454, on average, for students who qualify. This need-based aid is awarded as grants, not loans, to nearly 40% of UNC freshmen this year after need-based aid is applied. A 28% admission rate (the lower, the better) means that only the most competitive applicants gain entry. And most students graduate on time, with 77% completing their degrees in four years and 90% in six years.
Robert Emerson via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 15,822
Student-faculty ratio: 16:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 87%; 6-yr., 93%
Annual in-state cost: $23,415
Annual out-of-state cost: $50,801
Avg. debt at graduation: $21,591
When it comes to academic quality and affordability, UVA is a strong contender. Its $23,415 sticker price comes in above the national average of $18,391, but UVA charges $5,070 after need-based aid, the lowest cost in our top ten and below the average of $12,620. Among incoming freshmen, 37% score above 700 on the verbal SAT test and 48% score above 700 on the math exam. And if you don’t want to shell out for an extra year of tuition, this school is for you: It has the highest four and six-year graduation rates (at 87% and 93%) in our top 100. Graduates who borrowed head into the real world with an average debt of just over $21,000—relatively modest compared with the national average of $29,400.
Spohpatuf via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 32,776
Student-faculty ratio: 21:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 64%; 6-yr., 85%
Annual in-state cost: $16,863
Annual out-of-state cost: $39,140
Avg. debt at graduation: $19,636
At $16,863, the University of Florida has the lowest total in-state cost of our top ten. The cost after need-based aid is applied is $10,679, and students graduate with less than $20,000 in debt.
With more than 30,000 undergraduates, UF is the largest school in our top ten. Its 2,000-acre campus, with 900 buildings, is a hub for medical and scientific research, including the world’s largest citrus research center. Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship program helps in-state students with good academic records cover tuition and fees.
Pascal Auricht via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 6,171
Student-faculty ratio: 12:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 83%; 6-yr., 90%
Annual in-state cost: $26,285
Annual out-of-state cost: $49,262
Avg. debt at graduation: $24,344
The nation’s second-oldest college continues its tradition of excellent academics. Just 32% of applicants earn admission to this “public Ivy.” The 12-to-one student-faculty ratio is the lowest in our top ten.
William and Mary’s $26,285 total in-state cost drops to $13,436 after need-based aid. That’s a significant reduction from the sticker price but still the highest net cost in our top ten.
legge_e_mare via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 27,941
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 71%; 6-yr., 92%
Annual in-state cost: $28,852
Annual out-of-state cost: $51,730
Avg. debt at graduation: $20,409
Located in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, UCLA offers more than 800 clubs and student organizations, plus 125 majors. Its location in a major city gives students the internship and work opportunities that a small college town can’t.
Applicants to UCLA face steep competition: The admission rate is a competitive 22%, second-lowest on our list. Need-based financial aid brings UCLA’s nearly $30,000 in-state price tag to $11,483; students who borrow graduate with just over $20,000 in debt, on average. That’s almost $10,000 less than the national average.
Undergrad enrollment: 27,979
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 76%; 6-yr., 91%
Annual in-state cost: $24,186
Annual out-of-state cost: $51,436
Avg. debt at graduation: $27,815
UM has ascended our rankings over the past three years, thanks to limited cost increases and improving academics.
Michigan’s tuition is relatively high ($12,948 for in-state students, and $24,186 in total costs), but the 2014 tuition increase for residents was the smallest since 1985. The total cost after need-based aid has actually decreased since 2011, to $10,930. This year, the four-year graduation rate jumped three percentage points, to 76%.
Tomf688 via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 26,487
Student-faculty ratio: 18:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 63%; 6-yr., 82%
Annual in-state cost: $19,972
Annual out-of-state cost: $39,158
Avg. debt at graduation: $25,276
Located along the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor, Maryland’s flagship university lands at number seven this year, its sixth consecutive year in the top ten. Its total cost falls below $20,000, and the net cost becomes $13,490, on average, after need-based aid is applied. Maryland’s low cost helps secure its spot in the top ten, but its academics are nothing to shrug off: The university admits fewer than half of its applicants, and its 18-to-one student-faculty ratio gives students plenty of face time with professors.
James Steakley via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 30,863
Student-faculty ratio: 17:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 54%; 6-yr., 83%
Annual in-state cost: $19,957
Annual out-of-state cost: $36,207
Avg. debt at graduation: $24,700
Get this: When it comes to what students actually pay, Madison costs less this year than last. The average cost after need-based aid for residents dropped to $12,636 from $13,430.
The city of Madison, with its masses of young people, political jobs at the state capitol and myriad tech start-ups, has become a midwestern magnet for Millennials. Maybe that, plus solid academics, helps explain why 95% of students stick around after freshman year.
Bob Collowan/Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 25,774
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 71%; 6-yr., 91%
Annual in-state cost: $29,280
Annual out-of-state cost: $52,158
Avg. debt at graduation: $17,964
Talk about competitive. Just 18% of applicants gain entry to Berkeley, the lowest admission rate on our list. Among the incoming freshmen, 36% scored more than 700 on the verbal SATs; 56% beat that score in the math portion.
Berkeley’s $29,280 is the highest in-state total cost in our top ten, but its average need-based aid brings it to a much more doable $12,651. Students who borrow graduate with less than $18,000 in average debt.
Josh Hallett via Wikimedia Commons
Undergrad enrollment: 26,259
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 55%; 6-yr., 83%
Annual in-state cost: $20,424
Annual out-of-state cost: $38,634
Avg. debt at graduation: $19,621
Georgia jumped five places in our rankings this year, thanks to improved test scores and a more competitive admission rate. It has one of the highest yields in our top ten: Nearly half of students who earn acceptance letters choose to enroll, and 94% stick around after the first year.
Financial aid is generous, cutting Georgia’s $20,424 total cost to less than $12,000 for in-state students. Students graduate with less than $20,000 in debt. Residents with stellar high school records can qualify for the Hope Scholarship, which covers a portion of tuition.
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