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College Rankings

How We Rank the Schools

These criteria help us determine which universities make it onto our list.

Kiplinger’s bases its rankings on a combination of academics and affordability. We start with data from more than 500 public four-year colleges and universities, provided by Peterson’s/Nelnet, then add our own reporting.

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 entering in 2002.

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We then rank each school based on cost and financial aid. In our scoring system, academic quality carries more weight than costs (almost two-thirds of the total).

To assess costs, we look at 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; and the average debt per student before graduation. (In the table, aid is need-based assistance.)

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 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 $22,000 a year for tuition and fees.

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