College Rankings

How We Ranked the Top Public Colleges

To come up with our best values for 2014, we start with data on nearly 600 public four-year schools provided by Peterson’s, then add our own reporting.

The Formula:

45% Cost Factors | 55% Quality Factors

To come up with our best values for 2014, we start with data on nearly 600 public four-year schools provided by Peterson’s, then add our own reporting. We narrow the list based on measures of academic quality. We then rank each school based on cost measures and financial aid. Cost accounts for 45%, and quality accounts for 55%.

Cost and Financial Aid: 35%

To evaluate costs, we look at tuition, fees, room and board, and books. We give the most points to schools with the lowest in-state total cost and equal points to schools that reduce the price through grants (shown in our rankings as cost after need-based aid) and those that reduce the price through non-need-based aid. We reward schools with the highest percentage of need met, and we give points up to the same maximum to schools based on the percentage of students without need who receive non-need-based aid. We calculate out-of-state cost separately and use the same criteria to assign an out-of-state rank.

Student Indebtedness: 10%

Schools that keep down average debt at graduation deserve extra points, and we reward them accordingly. We also factor in the percentage of students who borrow. The lower the number, the better the score.

Competitiveness: 22.5%

In this category, we include admission rate (the percentage of applicants offered admission) and yield (the percentage of students who enroll out of those admitted). The first number demonstrates the selectivity of the school, and the second shows its ability to compete with other schools for accepted applicants. We also consider the percentage of incoming freshmen who are high scorers on SAT or ACT, because high achievers enhance the academic atmosphere.

Graduation Rates: 18.75%

Our rankings give maximum weight to the four-year graduation rate to reward colleges that help students get undergraduate degrees on time and within budget. We also give points—albeit half as many—to colleges with a strong showing of students who collect their degrees in six years.

Academic Support: 13.75%

Freshman retention rate is the percentage of students who return for their sophomore year, an indication of how successful the college is in keeping them on track. Students per faculty measures whether the college has the personnel to fulfill its academic mission.

Our rankings focus on traditional four-year schools with broad-based curricula. 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 $29,000 a year for tuition and fees in-state.

Jonny Jaldin helped compile this data.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked
stocks

The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked

The Berkshire Hathaway portfolio is a diverse set of blue chips, and increasingly, lesser-known growth bets. Here's a look at every stock picked by Wa…
November 16, 2021
Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts
shopping

Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts

Don't let those holiday sale promotions persuade you into buying something now that will be much cheaper later.
November 18, 2021

Recommended

How to Balance Saving for Retirement and Your Kids’ Education
college

How to Balance Saving for Retirement and Your Kids’ Education

Achieving your goals takes patience and time – but starting early will give you a big edge. And while it may feel unnatural, put yourself (and your re…
October 29, 2021
Thoughts Before Funding a 529 College Savings Plan
college

Thoughts Before Funding a 529 College Savings Plan

Watching your college savings grow tax-free with a 529 college savings plan feels great, but failing to follow the rules could come with penalties and…
October 23, 2021
Saving for College? Everything You Need to Know About 529 Plans
529 Plans

Saving for College? Everything You Need to Know About 529 Plans

529 plans offer considerable convenience and potential tax savings when putting money aside for education. That said, there are still a range of rules…
October 22, 2021
Make the Final Months of Student Loan Relief Really Pay Off
Paying for College

Make the Final Months of Student Loan Relief Really Pay Off

All good things must come to an end, and for federal student loan holders, that end will be on Jan. 31, 2022. So, you’ve got a few months left to take…
September 26, 2021