We rank Kiplinger\'s top 100 public colleges and universities based on measures of academic quality and affordability. These ten schools are the cream of the crop of that already-elite list.
The institutions in the top ten range from small colleges to immense flagship universities and span the entire nation, but they have one thing in common: They all deliver the most academic bang for your buck.
1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Undergrad enrollment: 18,430
Student-faculty ratio: 14:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 77%; 6-yr., 90%
Annual in-state cost: $18,609
Annual out-of-state cost: $39,361
Avg. debt at graduation: $17,525
UNC Chapel Hill is our number-one public college for the 12th time. Why is it a perennial Kiplinger winner? Credit its stellar academics, reasonable sticker price and generous financial aid. UNC\'s 77% four-year graduation rate trounces the 31% national average, and its 31% admission rate (the percentage of applicants who are accepted out of those who apply) makes it one of the most competitive schools on our list. Non-Carolinians can also take advantage of a superior value -- UNC is number two in our out-of-state rankings, behind SUNY Geneseo.
2. University of Virginia
Undergrad enrollment: 15,762
Student-faculty ratio: 16:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 87%; 6-yr., 94%
Annual in-state cost: $22,645
Annual out-of-state cost: $48,597
Avg. debt at graduation: $20,951
After finishing in third place in our rankings consistently since February 2008, Virginia finally climbed to second place. Credit higher test scores this year and a gentle increase in total cost. The Charlottesville school\'s 87% four-year graduation rate is the highest on our list. And UVA is one of only two schools in our rankings to meet 100% of financial need (first-ranked UNC Chapel Hill is the other). In-state students pay just $5,464, on average, after factoring in need.
3. University of Florida
Undergrad enrollment: 32,598
Student-faculty ratio: 21:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 59%; 6-yr., 84%
Annual in-state cost: $16,593
Annual out-of-state cost: $38,870
Avg. debt at graduation: $16,841
Although UF dropped one place in our rankings this year, it continues to score high on both cost and academic measures. Students stick around, with only 5% leaving after freshman year. And although Florida is a big school -- with 16 colleges, more than 150 research centers and institutes, and the largest undergraduate enrollment in our top ten -- it\'s still selective, with a 43% admittance rate.
4. College of William and Mary
Undergrad enrollment: 6,071
Student-faculty ratio: 12:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 85%; 6-yr., 91%
Annual in-state cost: $23,950
Annual out-of-state cost: $47,724
Avg. debt at graduation: $20,835
Small and highly competitive, this so-called \"public Ivy\" admits some of the cleverest students in our rankings: 43% scored 700 or higher on the verbal portion of the SAT, and 37% earned 700 or higher on the math portion. An enviable ratio of 12 students per faculty member helps keep these brainiacs engaged. Total cost is on the high side compared with other state schools, but with 85% of students graduating within four years, it\'s unlikely that you’ll pay for an extra year.
5. University of Maryland, College Park
Undergrad enrollment: 26,775
Student-faculty ratio: 18:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 66%; 6-yr., 82%
Annual in-state cost: $19,931
Annual out-of-state cost: $38,310
Avg. debt at graduation: $24,180
Maryland has climbed steadily in our rankings. Now the home of the Terrapins holds the fifth spot. Some credit goes to a four-year tuition freeze, which ended in 2010 but helped Maryland leap-frog its tuition-raising peers. In-staters pay an average of $12,499 after need. The 2014-15 academic year will see Maryland leave the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the Big Ten. The change promises to affect both athletic match-ups and gain UMD entry into the Big Ten\'s Committee on Institutional Cooperation, 15 schools that share resources, such as library materials, study abroad programs and research opportunities.
6. University of California, Los Angeles
Undergrad enrollment: 27,199
Student-faculty ratio: 17:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 68%; 6-yr., 90%
Annual in-state cost: $26,888
Annual out-of-state cost: $49,766
Avg. debt at graduation: $18,814
Despite increases in tuition for California state schools, they remain competitive in our rankings, thanks to generous financial aid and rigorous academics. The posh neighborhood of Westwood in Los Angeles isn\'t a bad place to spend four years, but you\'ll need to be a top student to get into UCLA. The first of three California schools on our top-ten list admits just 25% of applicants, with 44% earning 700 or higher on the math portion of the SAT and 22% scoring 700 or above on the verbal portion. At first glance, total cost is high. But with 84% of need met, Californians who qualify for need-based aid can expect to pay just $10,229 this year.
7. New College of Florida
Undergrad enrollment: 845
Student-faculty ratio: 10:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 51%; 6-yr., 68%
Annual in-state cost: $16,181
Annual out-of-state cost: $39,210
Avg. debt at graduation: $14,172
This tiny Florida school boasts solid academics and outstanding affordability. Its $16,181 total in-state cost, the lowest in our top ten, makes it a great deal for Floridians. And that cost shrinks to $7,674 after accounting for need-based aid. Average debt at graduation is $14,172, also the lowest in our top ten. The school ranks only a so-so 30th for out-of-state value.
8. University of California, Berkeley
Undergrad enrollment: 25,885
Student-faculty ratio: 17:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 71%; 6-yr., 91%
Annual in-state cost: $29,049
Annual out-of-state cost: $51,927
Avg. debt at graduation: $17,116
Berkeley admits only 22% of applicants, making it the most selective school in our top 100. Over one-third of these elite students scored 700 or above on the verbal portion of the SAT, and 58% hit 700-plus on the math portion. Its $29,049 in-state price tag may seem high, but average debt at graduation is $17,116, the third lowest in our top ten.
9. SUNY Geneseo
Undergrad enrollment: 5,485
Student-faculty ratio: 20:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 69%; 6-yr., 81%
Annual in-state cost: $18,519
Annual out-of-state cost: $27,769
Avg. debt at graduation: $21,000
With the lowest total costs for out-of-state students in our top ten, SUNY Geneseo is the number-one pick in our rankings for out-of-staters. But that doesn\'t mean New Yorkers can\'t expect to find value as well. In-state total cost is $18,519, and that shrinks to $14,047 after accounting for need. And students enter with high test scores: 24% scored 700 or higher on the SAT verbal portion while 20% scored 700 or higher on the math portion.
10. University of California, San Diego
Undergrad enrollment: 23,046
Student-faculty ratio: 19:1
Graduation rate: 4-yr., 56%; 6-yr., 85%
Annual in-state cost: $26,632
Annual out-of-state cost: $49,510
Avg. debt at graduation: $19,936
UCSD has the lowest total cost among our top California schools, and it lands at number ten for the second time in a row. Its sticker price isn\'t cheap, but San Diego delivers on generous financial aid, with students carrying an average of $19,936 in debt at graduation. And while climate doesn\'t officially factor into our rankings, balmy winter weather makes this Pacific Coast school even more alluring.
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