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

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer
Coronavirus and Your Money

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer

The IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your stimulus checks.
February 19, 2021
10 Things You'll Spend Less on in Retirement
retirement

10 Things You'll Spend Less on in Retirement

We spend a lot of time worrying about running out of cash in retirement. But you might be surprised to see some of the things you'll find yourself spe…
February 25, 2021
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021

Recommended

4 Ways Broke Grad Students Can Raise Their Income While Still in School
college

4 Ways Broke Grad Students Can Raise Their Income While Still in School

Grad students can lighten their financial loads by targeting specific opportunities as they complete their studies. Here are four places to start look…
February 10, 2021
Biden Extends Student Loan Relief, Is Loan Forgiveness Next?
Coronavirus and Your Money

Biden Extends Student Loan Relief, Is Loan Forgiveness Next?

On his first day as president, Joe Biden continued the suspension of student loan payments until October.
January 22, 2021
12 Ways the Biden Stimulus Package Could Put (or Keep) Money in Your Pocket
Coronavirus and Your Money

12 Ways the Biden Stimulus Package Could Put (or Keep) Money in Your Pocket

President Biden's "American Rescue Plan" includes several proposals to assist people financially harmed by the pandemic.
January 20, 2021
Will College Students Get a Second Stimulus Check? (Hint: It Depends!)
taxes

Will College Students Get a Second Stimulus Check? (Hint: It Depends!)

College students were shut out of the first round of stimulus payments, but they're hoping for a better deal with a second stimulus check.
December 28, 2020