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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Jane Bennett Clark, Senior Editor
| Spring 2016
Today, trying to find a private college with a sticker price of less than $20,000 a year can feel like hunting for a Tiffany diamond at TJ Maxx. The average annual cost of a private college—including tuition, fees, and room and board--runs $43,921, according to the College Board, and many private colleges post prices well into the $60,000 range. Public colleges are more affordable if your student stays in state (the average annual cost is $19,548), but if he or she attends a public college elsewhere, you will feel the pinch: The average annual cost for out-of-state students is $34,031.
The secret to finding a great school that fits your pocketbook? Consider the net cost, not just the sticker price. These 10 colleges, culled from our top 300 values among public and private institutions, deliver tuition, fees, and room and board for less than $20,000 annually, after average financial aid is factored in. If you meet the criteria, you’ll pay a bargain-basement price for a top-notch education. (Costs for the public colleges are for out-of-state students.)
JR P via Flickr
Average net cost: $3,798
Location: Berea, Ky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,621
Total annual cost: $7,680
Average need-based aid: $3,882
Kiplinger's combined rank: #93
Receive an acceptance letter from Berea College and you'll be guaranteed the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship. The school only accepts students with demonstrated financial need and combines its scholarship with any other grants and scholarships the student has received to cover the full cost of tuition; it also awards other financial aid, as needed, to offset housing and other costs. Founded by abolitionists and radical reformers and centered on a Christian-based education, this school is a bargain even before financial aid comes into play: The total annual cost is the lowest of our top 300 best college values. Berea requires all students to work 10 to 15 hours a week in school-approved jobs.
SEE ALSO: 10 Best College Values, 2016
Gobonobo via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $11,670
Location: Morris, Minn.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,899
Total annual cost: $21,550
Average need-based aid: $9,880
Kiplinger's combined rank: #153
This public liberal arts college offers many of the benefits of private liberal arts colleges, including small classes and close interactions with faculty (virtually all of whom have the highest degree in their field). Once the site of a boarding school for American Indians, the campus was transferred to the state of Minnesota in 1909 with the proviso that American Indians could attend tuition-free; the school still honors that policy. Morris offers 35 majors and minors,16 licensure programs and nine preprofessional programs.
Crimsonedge34 via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $13,689
Location: Chickasha, Okla.
Undergraduate enrollment: 904
Total annual cost: $21,880
Average need-based aid: $8,191
Kiplinger's combined rank: #207
Founded as a girls' prep school and women's college in 1908, this tiny institution—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—is the state's only public liberal arts college. With a stated mission to "challenge curious minds," USAO requires students to take a core curriculum across a range of disciplines, and it uses a team-teaching approach in which professors from different fields share a classroom. The trimester system enables some students to get a degree in three years.
SEE ALSO: 11 Top Sources of College Scholarships
Pastelitodepapa via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $13,725
Location: Provo, Utah
Undergraduate enrollment: 27,163
Total annual cost: $18,622 ($13,472 for Mormons)
Average need-based aid: $4,897
Kiplinger's combined rank: #62
BYU, which is led and supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, comes in under $20,000 even for students who don't qualify for financial aid. For Mormons, the annual cost is among the lowest on our list. One of several schools on our list with a religious orientation, the university requires that students, including non-Mormons, adhere to Mormon values and abide by an honor code that includes guidelines on dress, language and personal conduct. (The honor code forbids, among other things, beards, premarital sex, and drinking alcohol or even coffee or tea.)
stannate via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $14,659
Location: Elsah, Ill.
Undergraduate enrollment: 495
Total annual cost: $39,250
Average need-based aid: $24,591
Kiplinger's combined rank: #58
Part of a campus that also includes prekindergarten, elementary school and high school, Principia College bases its philosophy on Christian Science tenets but is not affiliated with the Christian Science Church. It awards need-based aid to 71% of its students, and merit aid—at an average of $22,664--to 91% of students who do not qualify for need-based aid. Principia's 2,600-acre campus overlooks the Mississippi River; many of its buildings were designed by Bernard Maybeck, a renowned architect of the Arts and Crafts movement. Despite its size, the school draws students from more than half the states and 25 countries.
SEE ALSO: 10 Best Colleges With the Lowest Average Graduating Debt
Yakinodi via Flickr
Average net cost: $16,563
Location: Princeton, N.J.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,391
Total annual cost: $58,660
Average need-based aid: $42,097
Kiplinger's combined rank: #2
First on our list for best values in private universities and number two for best value in our combined list of public and private institutions, this Ivy League university attracts top students from all over the world for its outstanding research and renowned faculty, which includes Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and MacArthur fellows. Princeton University's net cost is less than the average in-state price of a public university. It was also the first university in the country to introduce a no-loan financial aid policy, meaning that its financial aid comes in the form of grants, not loans.
Derhai via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $16,681
Location: Kirksville, Mo.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,910
Total annual cost: $23,475
Average need-based aid: $6,794
Kiplinger's combined rank: #65
Truman State not only keeps the average net cost well below $20,000 for out-of-state students who qualify, but it also delivers a bargain education for out-of-state students who don’t qualify for financial aid: They pay a sticker price of only about half the average price nationally. In-state or out-of-state, students at Truman State are high achievers: 29% of incoming freshmen scored 30 or higher on the ACTs, and over 40% of seniors enter graduate or professional school within six months of graduation (compared with a national average of 25%).
SEE ALSO: 10 Great Colleges Where Alumni Earn the Most
Alex Begin via Flickr
Average net cost: $16,745
Location: Santa Paula, Calif.
Undergraduate enrollment: 378
Total annual cost: $32,500
Average need-based aid: $15,755
Kiplinger's combined rank: #22
This small Catholic institution, located near the Los Padres National Forest, has no departments, majors or textbooks. Instead, students at Thomas Aquinas College participate in discussion-style classes that focus on the "great books." More than three-fourths of students receive need-based financial aid, and the average grant covers almost half of the sticker price.
Lacrossewi via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $16,944
Location: La Crosse, Wis.
Undergraduate enrollment: 9,755
Total annual cost: $22,659
Average need-based aid: $5,715
Kiplinger's combined rank: #172
The out-of-state sticker price for this U-Wisconsin satellite is higher than the national average, but its net cost means that students who qualify pay only about $2,000 more, on average, than the sticker price for in-state students. The university offers majors and programs in five schools, including preprofessional and dual degrees. In addition to 19 Division III athletic teams, the school offers 20 intramural sports and 23 sports clubs, including alpine ski racing, triathlon and Ping-Pong.
SEE ALSO: 10 Great Colleges Where Your Kid Can Graduate in 4 Year or Less
Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Average net cost: $17,229
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,636
Total annual cost: $61,659
Average need-based aid: $44,430
Kiplinger's combined rank: #3
Among the most competitive schools in our list of 300 best values, this preeminent institution ranks second (after Princeton) among our best values in private universities and third on our combined list. Harvard's net cost—less than the average annual in-state cost of a public institution—gives students who qualify for financial aid the opportunity to attend one of the top colleges in the world at less than one-third of the sticker price. About 70% of Harvard students receive some financial aid, and 20% of families pay nothing for a Harvard degree.