10 Best College Values With the Lowest Average Graduating Debt
The cost of a college education continues to rise.
The cost of a college education continues to rise. In 2016-17 the average sticker price for an in-state, four-year public institution, including tuition, fees, and room and board, rose 2.7%, to $20,090 a year, according to the College Board. The average total cost of attendance at private colleges and for out-of-state students at public colleges rose 3.4%, to $45,370 and $35,370, respectively. Student debt is rising, too. Average debt at graduation among students who borrowed was $31,400 at private schools and $26,800 at public schools in 2014-15, the College Board reports, compared with $30,200 and $25,500, respectively, in 2013-14.
But students don’t have to incur crippling debt to pay for college, nor do their parents have to break the bank to help them. These 10 schools get students who borrow out the door with the lowest average debt at graduation among the 300 schools on our list of best college values. At seven of the schools, student borrowers earn their diploma with an average of $13,000 or less in student debt. Five are public schools; four are liberal arts colleges; and one is a private university. Take a look at our list of low-debt colleges.
1. Baruch College of the City University of New York (CUNY)
- Location: New York, N.Y.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #118 (#26 among public colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 15,254
- Total annual out-of-state cost: $35,790 ($25,320 in-state)
- Students who borrow: 30%
Average debt at graduation: $7,915
Located in the heart of Manhattan, Baruch College is a short trip to Wall Street and Midtown, where students can find major companies and organizations offering internship and networking opportunities. The school’s 37 undergraduate majors are organized into three schools: Zicklin School of Business, Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.
The school’s annual sticker price for out-of-state students is comparable to the national average for out-of-state students at public four-year colleges. But the average need-based aid award of $7,269 reduces the annual cost for out-of-state students to $28,521. Forty-three percent of Baruch College students receive need-based aid, and Baruch is one of three schools on our best values list to keep average debt at graduation under $10,000.
2. Berea College
- Location: Berea, Ky.
- Kiplinger's combined rank: #73 (#42 among liberal arts colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 1,643
- Total annual cost: $7,742
- Students who borrow: 68%
Average debt at graduation: $7,928
Students don’t pay tuition at Berea College. Instead, the college promises to meet the full cost of tuition (after grants and scholarships from other sources have been applied), amounting to a value of nearly $100,000 over the course of four years. The small liberal arts school, about 35 miles south of Lexington, accepts 36% of applicants and admits only students with financial need.
Berea students work 10 to 15 hours per week while carrying a full academic load. They can choose from 32 academic majors in the arts, sciences and some professional programs. In addition to the scholarship, further aid is available to those requiring help with living expenses, such as housing and meals. Two-thirds of Berea students borrow, but the average debt at graduation is about a fourth of the national average for students at private colleges and universities.
3. Princeton University
- Location: Princeton, N.J.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #3 (#1 among private universities)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 5,402
- Total annual cost: $61,140
- Students who borrow: 16%
Average debt at graduation: $8,577
Princeton has the lowest acceptance rate—just 7%—of any school on this list. Applicants who make the cut are rewarded not only with an Ivy League education but also with generous financial aid, which makes the average student debt on graduation the lowest among the top 50 schools on our combined list.
Princeton meets 100% of financial need, and it does so without the use of loans. The New Jersey school became the first school to institute a no-loan financial aid policy in 2001, when it began offering all financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants. The average need-based aid award of $44,890 cuts the average annual cost down to $16,250. Among the relatively few students who do borrow, the average debt at graduation is less than 28% of the national average.
Princeton’s impressive five-to-one student-faculty ratio means students get plenty of face time with professors. Nearly three-fourths of incoming freshmen score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 79% score 700 or higher on the math portion of the exam.
4. Ramapo College of New Jersey
- Location: Mahwah, N.J.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #184 (#63 among public colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 5,661
- Total annual out-of-state cost: $36,469 ($27,469 in-state)
- Students who borrow: 51%
Average debt at graduation: $10,715
Ramapo College of New Jersey, set on a sprawling 300-acre campus just 30 miles north of New York City, doesn’t lack for academic options. Students can choose from more than 500 course offerings and 36 academic programs. The average class size at the school, which has an admissions rate of 53%, is just 23 students.
More than half of Ramapo students receive need-based aid, amounting to $10,072 a year, on average; that reduces the total out-of-state sticker price from $36,469 to $26,397. Among the students who don’t qualify for need-based aid, 7% receive non-need-based aid, at an average of $8,665.
5. University of North Georgia
- Location: Dahlonega, Ga.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #271 (#85 among public colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 16,729
- Total annual cost: $32,222
- Students who borrow: 44%
Average debt at graduation: $11,679
The University of North Georgia stands out as the youngest institution on our list of best values. The school was formed in 2013 with the merger of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College. Almost 40% of the school’s students receive need-based aid, at an average of $5,800; 5% of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive a non-need-based aid award of $1,205, on average. The school sits just south of the Chattahoochee National Forest, making it a perfect spot for outdoors enthusiasts. More than 40% of North Georgia students take out loans, but their average debt at graduation—less than $12,000—is less than half the national average.
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6. Wellesley College
- Location: Wellesley, Mass.
- Kiplinger's combined rank: #10 (#5 among liberal arts colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 2,355
- Total annual cost: $65,016
- Students who borrow: 49%
Average debt at graduation: $12,455
This elite private liberal arts school for women, located less than 20 miles outside of Boston, offers 56 departmental and interdepartmental majors and a training ground for careers: Nearly three-fourths of students participate in an internship. Founded in 1870, the school boasts an impressive list of alumni, including Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, both former secretaries of state. Wellesley has a competitive 30% admissions rate, and 43% of those admitted attend.
The school’s sticker price of $65,016 seems steep, but not after factoring in need-based aid, which is granted to 60% of students and lowers the total annual cost, on average, to $20,798.
7. Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY)
- Location: New York, N.Y.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #154 (#80 among public colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 16,550
- Total annual out-of-state cost: $23,888 ($16,328 in-state)
- Students who borrow: 71%
Average debt at graduation: $13,000
Hunter College sits just blocks from Central Park in Manhattan and is the largest school in the City University of New York system. Its students, who hail from more than 150 different countries, have access to 81 majors and 100 student clubs and organizations. Of the 39% of freshmen applicants Hunter College admits, one-fourth score at least 600 on the SAT’s critical-reading portion, and nearly half score 600 or higher on the exam’s math section.
Although nearly three-fourths of students take out loans, the average debt at graduation is about half the national average for public school borrowers. That’s because more than half of Hunter College students receive need-based financial aid, with the average award of $7,862 reducing the annual cost for out-of-state students to $16,026.
8. Pomona College
- Location: Claremont, Calif.
- Kiplinger's combined rank: #12 (#7 among liberal arts colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 1,663
- Total annual cost: $65,857
- Students who borrow: 39%
Average debt at graduation: $13,381
The only school in California to earn a place on our low-debt list, Pomona College boasts a 91% four-year graduation rate, and 97% of the school’s freshmen return for their sophomore year. That impressive staying power isn’t just a factor of the Southern California sunshine: The school offers both stellar academics and generous financial aid. Pomona’s average need-based aid award of $42,064 slashes the school’s otherwise hefty annual sticker price of $65,857 to $23,793.
Pomona, like three other schools on this list (Wellesley, Princeton and Haverford), meets 100% of its students’ financial need. What’s more, it does so without including loans in students’ financial aid awards. The school adopted a no-loan policy in 2008, meaning that students receive all their financial aid in grants and scholarships, which don’t need to be repaid.
9. Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY)
- Location: Queens, N.Y.
- Kiplinger’s combined rank: #169 (#64 among public colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 16,100
- Total annual out-of-state cost: $29,432 ($22,322 in-state)
- Students who borrow: 15%
Average debt at graduation: $14,307
Queens College, located in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, accepts more than one-third of applicants. The school offers more than 70 undergraduate majors, and 85% of freshmen return for their sophomore year.
The school sits on 80 tree-lined acres less than three miles from Citi Field, where the New York Mets play, and Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the U.S. Open tennis tournament is held. Despite its proximity to high-priced New York City, the school’s out-of-state sticker price of $29,432 is relatively low. An average need-based aid award of $7,487, granted to almost half of students, brings that average cost down even lower, to $21,945, further reducing a student’s need to borrow. One-fourth of students who receive no other aid receive non-need-based aid, at an average of $3,069.
10. Haverford College
- Location: Haverford, Pa.
- Kiplinger's combined rank: #33 (#19 among liberal arts colleges)
- Undergraduate enrollment: 1,233
- Total annual cost: $67,919
- Students who borrow: 28%
Average debt at graduation: $14,750
Located just outside Philadelphia, Haverford College accepts only 25% of freshmen applicants, and those who attend are high achievers: 56% scored above 700 on the SAT’s critical-reading portion, and 57% scored above than 700 on the exam’s math portion. The school, which was founded by Quakers, has one of the most extensive collections of Quaker history in the country.
The average need-based aid award granted to Haverford students is $45,390, which cuts the total annual cost of $67,919 to $22,529. Students at the school don’t receive non-need-based aid, and 28% of students take out loans.