“Best Value” Colleges

Here we go again. Every year, various publications come out with their “rankings.” You’ll see biggest party schools, top-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges, best food (I mentioned those schools a while ago), best teachers, best grad programs, most expensive, most beautiful campuses, etc., etc. You’ll even get the flip side with all those “worst” lists. Maybe someday someone will come out with best (and worst) “Best” and “Worst” list rankings. In my humble view, it’s all about selling magazines and creating Web traffic. Print publications are hurting these days, so maybe eventually all these lists will be only online. Who knows?

Anyway, today’s post is about Kiplinger’s annual Best College Values. In these days of economic hardship here in our nation, there is a need for some kind of reasonably objective evaluation of which colleges offer families the best value for their hard-earned dollars. The big turnoff for many parents and high school students is sometimes the so-called “sticker price” of a college.  That term refers to the non-discounted total of tuition, room and board, and student fees, which is lumped together under the term “annual student budget.” These numbers, which do not include any financial aid relief, can be shocking.

Take for example Columbia University (Kiplinger’s #5 Best Value). Columbia lists its “Total Annual Cost” as $60,298. Yikes. And that doesn’t include everyday ancillary costs of living in New York City. Four years at that rate will cost you nearly a quarter-million dollars. BUT (and this is the point, dear readers) unless you don’t qualify for any financial aid, you likely won’t have to pay anywhere near that amount, if you’re so blessed to get into this exceedingly competitive institution. That’s the “best value” point of Kiplinger’s listing.

As if the whole college admissions process isn’t daunting enough, trying to balance the issues of college preference and selection with the ability to pay can be maddening. To help with this challenge is Kiplinger’s mission with its “Best Values” approach.

When you go to their listings, take a moment and read their rationale before scanning the schools. This will help you understand why, for example, Columbia’s “Average Net Cost” (the amount that, on average, many students pay after financial aid is factored in) is an amazing $21,223. Far from that nasty sticker price, huh?

Anyway, here are some highlights from Kiplinger’s Best Values list.

- University of Pennsylvania: Sticker: $57,316; Net: $22,661

- MIT: Sticker: $55,238; Net: $19,949

- Stanford University: Sticker: $56,008; Net: $16,903

- Harvard University: Sticker: $55,496; Net: $13,267

- California Institute of Technology: Sticker: $52,995; Net: $20,637

- Duke University: Sticker: $56,056; Net: $19,179

- Princeton University: Sticker: $54,425; Net: $18,760

- Rice University: Sticker: $50,692; Net: $19,440

- Yale University: Sticker: $52,700; Net: $13,786


So, you can see that there is some real distance between a college’s sticker price and their average net cost, once financial aid is factored in. The “best values” are easy to spot. They’re the ones with the greatest differential between their sticker price and their average net cost. You can use Kiplinger’s for a good place to start your college search. Of course, always be sure to check the fine print. The bank account you save may be your own.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.