Why Davidson Scores Big

We profile one of our top 100 picks for best values in private colleges.

DavidsonCollege has made it to the Final Four -- in Kiplinger’srankings, that is.

Number four among our liberal-arts colleges, thissmall school, in Davidson, N.C., went a bit bonkers a year and a half ago whenits basketball team, led by phenom Stephen Curry, got as far as the Elite Eightin the NCAA championship tournament. Some people, including Davidson’spresident, Tom Ross, just can’t stop talking about it. “The last time Davidsonwas in the Elite Eight was when I was a freshman here. It happened again in myfirst year as president. I think I’m the common denominator and deserve all thecredit,” he says with a smile.But Ross would be the first to point out thatDavidson has plenty to brag about besides basketball. It was the firstliberal-arts college to substitute grants for loans in its financial-aidpackages, in 2007, and it offers non-need-based aid to 20% of its students. AndDavidson boasts one of the highest four-year graduation rates in our rankings.Still, a behemoth, Big Ten school this ain’t. Walkthe main campus, with its mix of neoclassical buildings, brick walkways andlush shade trees, and you’ll be back where you started in about 15 minutes -- unlessyou relax in one of the Adirondack chairs on the green. Students say theyappreciate the intimate setting, which fosters a strong student-facultyrelationship and a sense of camaraderie. “When you’re playing a game, you havefriends in the stands supporting you,” says Bryant Barr, a shooting guard onthe Wildcats basketball team. Students also appreciate Davidson’s financial-aidpolicy, which enables lower-income families to afford its private-schooleducation. “When I was accepted at Davidson, I was like ‘Awesome, excellent,’and then I started crying because I didn’t want my parents to have to pay forthis school,” says Eissabeth Dizon, of Hickory, N.C. With an award offer ofgrants and work-study, Dizon realized she could go to her top-choice schoolafter all. The recession has tested Davidson’s finances. Itsendowment dropped by 24% over the past year, and applications for need-basedaid rose by 10%. Davidson initiated a hiring freeze, delayed filling vacancies,and cut back on faculty travel and workshops. And the Elite Eight afterglowsent T-shirt sales soaring at the campus bookstore, boosting revenues. “It wasthe Stephen Curry effect,” says Karen Goldstein, vice-president for businessand finance.

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Jane Bennett Clark
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
The late Jane Bennett Clark, who passed away in March 2017, covered all facets of retirement and wrote a bimonthly column that took a fresh, sometimes provocative look at ways to approach life after a career. She also oversaw the annual Kiplinger rankings for best values in public and private colleges and universities and spearheaded the annual "Best Cities" feature. Clark graduated from Northwestern University.