Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017
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10 Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017

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Families looking to trim college costs often steer their students toward public colleges in their home state rather than to public colleges across state lines or private institutions. Staying in-state makes sense for families who expect little or no financial aid. In 2016-17 the average sticker price for in-state students attending four-year public colleges was $20,090 (including tuition, fees and room and board), according to the College Board. That’s less than half the total average sticker price for private schools ($45,370 for 2016-17) and about 40% less than the average sticker price ($35,370) for out-of-state students attending public colleges.

But price isn’t the only consideration when choosing a college. The schools that earn top honors on our list of public colleges deliver on our definition of value: a high-quality education at an affordable price. We look at measures of academic quality, including a competitive admission rate, a low student-faculty ratio and a high four-year graduation rate. On the financial side of the equation, we look for schools with reasonable sticker prices (based on the cost of attendance for in-state students), generous financial aid for students who qualify, and low average debt among students who borrow. As with last year’s list, we’ve also included future earnings data for graduates 10 years after starting school, to give you an idea of what attending a particular institution may mean for a student’s post-graduation salary.

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Our top 100 public institutions give you an array of choices, from tiny schools to behemoth flagships. These 10 schools lead the pack.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 2 of 11

1. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,415

Four-year grad rate: 82%

Total annual cost: $21,494 in-state; $46,576 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $4,250 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $20,127

10-year salary yardstick: $51,000

The Tar Heels deserve special kudos for consistent excellence: This research university leads our public college rankings for the 16th straight time. Chapel Hill also claims top honors as the best value for out-of-state students and the ninth spot on our combined best value list, which includes private colleges and universities. Solid academics, including a 30% admission rate and an 82% four-year graduation rate, along with robust financial aid help Chapel Hill continue to be a sweet deal.

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Carolina’s in-state sticker price is comparable to that of other public colleges. But the average net price for in-state students who qualify for need-based aid is a bargain at roughly one-fourth of the school’s in-state sticker price. Chapel Hill is one of only two public colleges on our list to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need. Much of this aid is awarded in the form of scholarships and grants – which don’t have to be repaid – rather than loans. Only 41% of students report borrowing, among the lowest percentage of borrowers on our list of public colleges.

SEE ALSO: 10 Great Colleges That Won't Make Students Take Loans

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 3 of 11

2. University of Virginia

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Location: Charlottesville, Va.

Undergraduate enrollment: 16,736

Four-year grad rate: 87%

Total annual cost: $28,433 in-state; $57,774 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $8,296 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $24,905

10-year salary yardstick: $60,100

The University of Virginia moves up one place this year to nab the second spot on our public colleges list. This “Academical Village,” founded by Thomas Jefferson, excels in our rankings for its blend of academic quality and affordability. UVA admits 30% of applicants, and 40% of those offered admission enroll. UVA also racks up points for its ability to usher students to graduation day on time, sparing families the expense of an extra year of attendance. The school’s 87% four-year graduation rate is the highest on our list of 100 public colleges.

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UVA is one of only two schools on our list of 100 public colleges (the other is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) to meet 100% of students demonstrated financial need. The school’s average need-based aid award of $20,137, which reduces the annual cost of attendance by 71% for in-state students, is among the lowest of all 100 public colleges on our list.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 4 of 11

3. University of California, Berkeley

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Location: Berkeley, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 27,496

Four-year grad rate: 73%

Total annual cost: $30,813 in-state; $57,495 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $11,726 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $17,869

10-year salary yardstick: $60,800

The Golden Bears continue their climb on our list of public colleges, moving up one spot this year to number three. Aiding the school’s rise: ample need-based aid awards, strong academics and a shrinking admission rate. Just 15% of applicants are offered admission, one of the most competitive admission rates of all 100 public colleges on our best values list. Among incoming freshmen, an impressive 40% of students score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 58% score top marks on the math section. Once on campus, students can select courses from 170 academic departments and programs.

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Despite having one of the highest in-state sticker prices of all 100 public colleges on our list, UC Berkeley’s generous financial aid awards help keep the cost of attendance in check for families with financial need. Nearly half of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average award of $19,087 reduces the school’s sticker price to $11,726 a year for in-state students. Less than 40% of students report taking loans; the average debt among those who do borrow is the among the lowest of all 100 schools on our list.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 5 of 11

4. The College of William and Mary

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Location: Williamsburg, Va.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,301

Four-year grad rate: 82%

Total annual cost: $34,389 in-state; $54,900 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $19,316 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $26,017

10-year salary yardstick: $55,000

Outstanding academics help the smallest college in our top 10 ascend six places this year. Admission to this “public Ivy” is competitive: 34% of applicants are offered admission, and about 30% of those who are admitted enroll. The school offers a broad range of majors, from chemistry and Latin to marketing and neuroscience. Although students come to William and Mary’s 1,200-acre campus with plenty of smarts (42% score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 39% score top marks on the math section), students nonetheless close out the fall semester at a gathering to toss sprigs of holly on a Yule log for good luck.

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Further boosting its climb: William and Mary’s 82% four-year graduation rate, which ties with top-ranked University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the second-highest on our list of 100 public colleges. And the school’s 12-to-one student-faculty ratio is one of the lowest on our list of 100 public colleges. On the financial side, nearly one-third of students receive need-based aid; the average award slashes the school’s sticker price by 44% for in-state students.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 6 of 11

5. University of Michigan

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Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Undergraduate enrollment: 28,312

Four-year grad rate: 75%

Total annual cost: $26,952 in-state; $57,330 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $11,552 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $26,034

10-year salary yardstick: $57,400

Michigan holds steady this year at number five on our in-state best values list. A dramatic increase in the school’s four-year graduation rate combined with modest cost increases have fueled the Wolverines' climb to our top 10 in recent years. The school accepts only 26% of applicants, and 45% of those who are offered admission enroll. Among incoming freshmen, more than 70% score 30 points or higher on the ACT. Once students arrive on campus, they can select from more than 265 degree programs and participate in any of more than 1,300 student organizations.

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For the 36% of students who receive need-based aid, the average award of $15,400 cuts the school’s in-state sticker price by 57%. Less than half of students report borrowing, and the average debt among those who do borrow is slightly lower than the national average among public school borrowers ($26,800).

SEE ALSO: 11 Ways to Cut the Cost of College Tuition

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 7 of 11

6. University of California, Los Angeles

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Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 29,585

Four-year grad rate: 74%

Total annual cost: $29,541 in-state; $56,223 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $10,575 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $21,596

10-year salary yardstick: $59,600

Fierce competition for admission helps UCLA, the largest school in the University of California system, secure its place in our top 10. The school draws more applicants than any of the other 300 schools on our best value list, and UCLA’s 17% admission rate is the second-lowest on our list of 100 public colleges. Of incoming freshmen, 27% score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 44% score top marks on the math portion. UCLA students can select from more than 125 majors, including business economics, political science and psychobiology. Outside of class, Bruins have access to more than 1,000 student organizations. And the school’s location in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles offers students easy access to downtown for internship and job opportunities.

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More than half of UCLA students receive need-based aid; the average award of $18,966 reduces the school’s in-state sticker price by 64%. Forty-six percent of students report borrowing. The average debt at graduation among those who do borrow is about $5,200 lower than the national average ($26,800) for four-year public school borrowers.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 8 of 11

7. University of Florida

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Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Undergraduate enrollment: 35,043

Four-year grad rate: 66%

Total annual cost: $17,501 in-state; $39,779 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $10,526 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $21,028

10-year salary yardstick: $51,100

At $17,501, the University of Florida’s in-state sticker price is the lowest on our top 10 list – making the school an attractive option for families who don’t expect to qualify for need-based aid. For the families who do qualify (nearly half), an average need-based aid award of $6,975 cuts the school’s sticker price by 40%. For in-state students with strong academic records, Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship program helps cover tuition and fees.

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But Florida Gators don’t make their way to the school’s 2,000-acre Gainesville campus just for the breaks on tuition. The largest public university in our top 10 offers 16 colleges of specialized study and more than 100 undergraduate majors, including finance, marine sciences, natural resource conservation, and tourism, events and recreation management. The university is also a national hub for medical and scientific research.

SEE ALSO: 10 Colleges Where Tuition Is Free

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 9 of 11

8. University of Maryland, College Park

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Location: College Park, Md.

Undergraduate enrollment: 27,380

Four-year grad rate: 70%

Total annual cost: $23,139 in-state; $45,003 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $13,851 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $26,818

10-year salary yardstick: $60,500

Solid academics, including a strong four-year graduation rate and a 16-to-one student-faculty ratio, help the Terrapins land the eighth spot on our in-state public colleges list. This public research university, located between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, attracts and keeps talented students. Among incoming freshmen, 23% score 700 or higher on the critical-reading section of the SAT, and 38% score top marks on the math section. An impressive 95% of freshmen return to campus for their sophomore year. Terps can study any of 90 undergraduate majors and join any of more than 800 student groups.

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A reasonable sticker price and generous financial aid also help Maryland’s flagship university perform well in our rankings. Nearly 40% of students receive need-based aid; the average annual award of $9,288 cuts the in-state sticker price by 40%. One in five students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive non-need-based aid. And more than half of students graduate without taking out student loans.

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 10 of 11

9. Georgia Institute of Technology

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Location: Atlanta, Ga.

Undergraduate enrollment: 15,142

Four-year grad rate: 40%

Total annual cost: $24,160 in-state; $44,352 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $14,052 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $25,182

10-year salary yardstick: $74,500

Robust financial aid awards help propel the Georgia Institute of Technology up 14 places on this year’s list of best values in public colleges. The school’s sticker price is about $4,000 higher than the average sticker price for in-state students attending public colleges. But more than one-third of students receive need-based aid, reducing the school’s in-state sticker price by 42%, on average. One-third of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive non-need-based aid.

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Sports can create a bit of a buzz at this tech school – but make no mistake, Georgia Tech attracts stellar students. The school accepts nearly one-third of applicants. Among incoming freshmen, 40% scored 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 66% scored top marks on the math section. All but 3% of freshmen return to Georgia Tech for their sophomore year. The school’s 400-acre campus is located in Atlanta’s walkable Midtown neighborhood, home to an eclectic array of shops and restaurants, several museums and the city’s largest greenspace, Piedmont Park. Georgia Tech boasts the highest average salary figure ($74,500 10 years after enrolling) of all 100 public colleges on our list.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best College Majors for Your Career

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Best Values in Public Colleges, 2017 | Slide 11 of 11

10. University of Georgia

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Location: Athens, Ga.

Undergraduate enrollment: 27,547

Four-year grad rate: 63%

Total annual cost: $22,256 in-state; $40,466 out-of-state

Total net cost (for students who qualify for aid): $13,333 in-state

Average debt at graduation: $22,087

10-year salary yardstick: $47,300

Ample financial aid awards and solid academics help the University of Georgia move up two places this year, returning to the top 10 for the first time since 2015. Forty percent of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average award amount of $8,923 cuts the school’s in-state sticker price by 40%. About half of students make it to graduation day without taking student loans, but among those who do report borrowing, the average debt is nearly $5,000 less than the national average among four-year public school borrowers.

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On campus, located about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta, students can participate in any of more than 600 student organizations. The school’s campus is also home to Georgia’s State Botanical Garden, the State Museum of Art and the State Museum of Natural History. Off campus, students can enjoy the thriving music scene in nearby Athens, which gave birth to R.E.M and the B-52s and is now home to hundreds of bands in all genres.

SEE ALSO: 10 Worst College Majors for Your Career

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