Why You Should Consider "Best Value" Colleges
Find out what unique qualities these highly ranked colleges and universities have to offer.
As The New York Times recently noted, “Best Value” rankings for colleges and universities are more popular than ever. Just about every news outlet has one these days, including U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review and Forbes. Using the methodology details from the lists mentioned above, here are some of the top reasons to consider a college that’s ranked highly on a “Best Value” list.
“Best Value” lists focus on the best “bang for your buck” at various colleges and universities. That doesn’t mean that these are necessarily the cheapest schools or the ones that offer the most financial aid. What it does mean is that students receive a high-quality education as well as relatively affordable tuition costs. These “Best Value” lists also take financial aid packages into account to determine how much students actually end up spending on their education.
Without strong academics, no school can be considered a good investment.
For example, consider Harvard University, which earned the number-one spot on U.S. News and World Report’s list. While tuition at this elite university is normally over $36,000 per year, average annual cost for students after factoring in need-based grants is only $15,486. On the other hand, some colleges on these lists offer lower tuition costs right off the bat. Number 11 on Forbes’ list, for example, is the University of Wyoming, which has a very affordable in-state tuition fee of $4,278.
While students at most colleges rack up some type of student loan debt these days, the schools on the “Best Value” lists often graduate students with fewer debt problems. The Forbes list is especially stringent when it comes to the topic of student debt. When compiling their list, Forbes penalized colleges whose graduates have high debt loads and default rates. In essence, the colleges that made the list tend to have graduates with more manageable debt loads, as well as successful careers that help them to avoid defaulting on their loans. It’s no surprise that, given these circumstances, the number one college on Forbes’ list is the United States Military Academy at West Point, which boasts free tuition.
At U.S. News and World Report, they also take student debt into account. For this “Best Value” list, colleges and universities that offer a significant amount of need-based scholarships and grants are weighted heavily on the list. That’s because these two types of aid don’t need to be repaid by the student, which lowers tuition costs along with student debt loads. According to the U.S. News and World Report “Best Value” list, more than half of the students at their top three schools --(Harvard, Yale and Princeton) -- receive need-based grants.
When compiling a “Best Value” list, the academic environment at each college has to be considered. Without strong academics, no school could be considered a good investment. That’s why each of these news outlets places a strong emphasis on the academic reputation and student scores at each college to help determine which schools are most worth the tuition costs.
Princeton Review takes an especially detailed look at academic rating when compiling their list. In addition to considering selectivity in admissions, this list also takes into account incoming freshman GPAs and SAT/ACT scores. Princeton Review also considers the academic environment, including how students rate their professors’ teaching ability and how accessible their instructors are outside of class. With these tough standards, only highly reputable schools like Swarthmore College, the University of Michigan and Rice University made it onto their list.
Student Success and Satisfaction
While the methodology factors listed above are all included in some way on most “Best Value” lists, there’s no agreement on exactly how a college’s value should be calculated. As a result, some lists have chosen to incorporate additional factors that lead to student success or satisfaction. These additional factors may include:
- Current student satisfaction
- Alumni satisfaction
- Graduation rates
- Graduate earnings
- Economic diversity
For example, PayScale’s list of “Best Value” colleges looks closely at alumni earnings in order to calculate whether a school is a good investment. In fact, their methodology looks at the 30-year return on investment (ROI) for graduates of each college – essentially, how much money the average alum will earn in the 30 years following their graduation. As such, it makes perfect sense that most of their “Best Value” schools (including Harvey Mudd College and California Institute of Technology) have a significant percentage of graduates entering lucrative fields like engineering.
Take a look at a number of “Best Value” lists when you’re researching colleges to learn more about which schools offer relatively affordable tuition coupled with strong academics. And remember, it’s wise to also consider the methodology behind each list and the specifics about net costs to ensure that you find a college that meets your needs and your budget.