10/26/2011 4:42 PM ET|
The best values in private colleges
Kiplinger has adjusted its criteria to reflect these trying times, but familiar names again rise to the top of the annual rankings.
Imagine that you had the money to send your child to any private college in the country. Then imagine that your kid was talented enough to be accepted at any college in the country. With all those choices, you'd still want a college that delivered the best bang for the buck, wouldn't you? In the real world, where money is tight and your selection limited, you have every reason to expect the same thing.
We're here to help. As always, our 2011-12 rankings of the best values in private colleges and universities identify institutions that are both academically strong and affordable -- our definition of value. This year, however, we took a fresh look at the criteria that go into that definition to better reflect the matters that affect real families, and we tweaked our presentation so you can better fit the school to your circumstances.
For example, we now assign more points to the four-year graduation rate than to the five-year rate -- the faster your student graduates, the more money you save. Freshman retention -- the percentage of students who return after the first year -- remains a major factor in our rankings. "It tells you whether this is likely to be a good school for the long haul," says Jane Wellman of the Delta Project, which studies college finance. On the cost side, we give added weight to colleges that rein in student debt.
Those changes have sharpened our focus, but they don't turn the previous rankings on their head. Princeton, this year's No. 1 value among private universities, has appeared at or near the top of our list for several years running, thanks to its outstanding academic quality and generous financial aid policies. Pomona, ranked first among liberal arts colleges, makes its third appearance at the top of the liberal arts list for a similarly stellar showing. In each case, the new criteria confirmed what we already knew: These schools deliver consistently great value.
Higher costs, more aid
In this struggling economy, you'd think that private schools would have priced themselves out of the market. In fact, enrollment at these schools is rising, and not just among the affluent. Private colleges are attracting more low-income students, students who are the first in their family to attend college and students of color, says David Warren of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Meanwhile, sticker prices keep rising, by an average annual rate of about 4.5%. The price tag at private institutions currently runs an average of about $37,000 a year; many colleges blew past the $50,000 mark several years ago.
Still, "the important thing is to not obsess on posted tuition, because there is so much financial aid out there," says Ronald Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute. That aid allows more students -- including low-income ones -- to attend. The need-based aid packages in our list generally rose in lockstep with rising prices. At Princeton, average aid knocks the total cost from $50,269 a year to less than $16,000, a bargain by any definition. At Pomona, aid reduces the $54,010 sticker price to less than $20,000.
Most top-tier schools, including Princeton and Pomona, restrict their financial aid to families with need; lower-tier colleges woo students with merit scholarships (otherwise known as tuition discounts). Those discounts reduce the price for freshmen by an average of 49%, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. College administrators and policymakers call the discount level "unsustainable," but for now, the money is on the table, and students are grabbing it.
Whether they charge the full amount or fire-sale prices, private colleges spend more per student than public colleges do, offer better service and smaller classes, and devote more resources to the campus setting. "They're selling the whole experience," says Wellman. That nurturing environment also gives students a straighter shot to a diploma. Private colleges have a far better record of graduating their students within four years than their public counterparts do.
Since the recession, private colleges have tried to protect both their core academic enterprise and student services while cutting nonessentials to the bone, says Warren, of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. As a result, expect to find fewer assistant deans and more academic counselors, fewer climbing walls and better health facilities, the same small classes but more career counseling.
"Nobody pretends that this is not a more difficult budget-balancing act," Warren says. Among college administrators, "the word that comes up most is 'value.'"
The colleges and universities in our rankings exemplify that standard. Two-thirds of our top 100 institutions bested the four-year graduation rate for all private colleges (51%) by at least 30 percentage points. At 92 of our top 100 schools, 90% or more of freshmen returned for their sophomore year. And despite the budget cutting, almost all of our top 100 institutions maintained their already low student-to-faculty ratio.
As for cost, here's a minor miracle: Ten colleges and eight universities out of our 100 didn't charge a sticker price of $50,000-plus this year, and three -- Wheaton and Hillsdale on the liberal arts side and Elon among universities -- managed to keep their price below $40,000.
Sewanee put itself in a class of its own by cutting its total cost by 10%, to a relatively modest $42,318. Centre College and Gustavus Adolphus stand out among liberal arts colleges, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the University of Portland shine on the university side for spreading their financial aid generously between need-based and non-need-based aid.
Princeton meets its goal
Ten years ago, Princeton took the unprecedented step of eliminating loans from its financial aid package, with the goal of shrinking student borrowing almost to the vanishing point. Mission accomplished: Princeton's average debt -- $5,225 -- is the lowest on both our lists, and its students now borrow mostly for convenience, says Robin Moscato, the director of financial aid.
"They do so for reasons such as purchasing a laptop or replacing the work-study requirement. It's a choice they make to improve their Princeton experience," Moscato says.
Princeton uses its no-loan financial aid policy to further another longtime goal: increasing diversity on campus. This Ivy League institution offers need-based aid to 57% of its students and would like to see that number grow. "We're always seeking and hoping to enroll more talented, qualified students from lower-income backgrounds," says Moscato.
Students lucky enough to attend under any circumstance receive an outstanding education. Set on a storied campus, Princeton offers small classes, a broad-based curriculum, a student body filled with superstars and a faculty that practically teems with Nobel Prize winners. Its freshman retention rate is 98%, for good reason. Why would anyone leave?
Pomona sets priorities
When Pomona first topped our list in February 2009, President David Oxtoby faced a set of tough choices. The recession had sapped the school's endowment and increased the demand for financial aid. Alumni donations had stalled. Pomona's ambitious plans for new arts facilities and new residence halls suddenly seemed, well, too ambitious.
Three years later, Pomona has rebounded with a recovering endowment, replenished donations and two state-of-the art residence halls. A campaign to fund the arts facilities, delayed for a year, is back on track. And the academic quality and plentiful financial aid that have twice before made Pomona our top-ranked college put it at the top again.
But the school is now making do with less, and some of the small luxuries that give Pomona its private-school cachet have dwindled or disappeared. Staff members who left have not been replaced. A member of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona has "significantly expanded" its cooperation with the four other undergraduate schools in the consortium, sharing resources and programs.
"We're not trying to do as much on our own," says Oxtoby. Pomona's signature outdoor-adventure program was cut back, and the chocolate-tasting extravaganza that kicked off exam week is no more.
Leslie Appleton of Phoenix considers Pomona's small class sizes, high quality and liberal arts focus well worth the price of admission, regardless of recent cutbacks.
"The best thing you get out of a place like Pomona is learning how to explore different things, and the emphasis on holistic education is good for developing critical-thinking skills. I honestly believe I'm getting a superb value out of my education."
As for the chocolate party, Appleton, a senior, laughs. "That was hard to give up."
|Private universities top 10|
|School||Location||Admis-sions rate||Stu-dents per fa-culty||4-year gradu-ation rate||Total cost per year||Average need-based aid||Average non-need-based aid||% of |
|Average debt at gradu-ation|
|Princeton University||Princeton, N.J.||9%||6||90.1%||$50,269||$34,719||$0||0%||$5,225|
|Yale University||New Haven, Conn.||8%||6||89%||$53,700||$38,914||$0||0%||$9,254|
|California Institute of Technology||Pasadena, Calif.||13%||3||80.7%||$50,703||$31,030||$40,888||5%||$10,760|
|Harvard University||Cambridge, Mass.||7%||7||87.2%||$53,652||$39,156||$0||0%||$10,102|
|University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia||14%||6||88.4%||$55,136||$32,443||$0||0%||$17,013|
|Duke University||Durham, N.C.||19%||8||86.8%||$55,245||$35,578||$21,158||13%||$21,884|
|Columbia University||New York City||6%||6||87.9%||$59,208||$38,356||$0||0%||NA|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Cambridge, Mass.||10%||8||84.5%||$53,557||$35,504||$0||0%||$15,228|
|Stanford University||Stanford, Calif.||7%||6||78.4%||$54,798||$37,930||$3,329||25%||$14,058|
|Liberal arts colleges top 10|
|School||Location||Admis-sions rate||Stu-dents per fa-culty||4-year gradu-ation rate||Total cost per year||Average need-based aid||Average non-need-based aid||% of non-need-based aid||Average debt at gradu-ation|
|Pomona College||Claremont, Calif.||15%||7||90.6%||$54,010||$34,674||$0||0%||$10,592|
|Washington and Lee University||Lexington, Va.||19%||9||91.7%||$34,315||$34,315||$27,117||15%||$23,807|
|Swarthmore College||Swarthmore, Penn.||16%||8||88.8%||$54,400||$35,033||$39,260||1%||$18,739|
|Williams College||Williamstown, Mass.||19%||7||91%||$55,360||$39,274||$0||0%||$8,369|
|Davidson College||Davidson, N.C.||29%||10||88.7%||$50,723||$24,873||$18,503||18%||$23,233|
|Hamilton College||Clinton, N.Y.||29%||9||84.2%||$54,770||$33,381||$31,497||3%||$16,982|
|Vassar College||Poughkeepsie, N.Y.||24%||8||89.6%||$56,635||$36,353||$0||0%||$18,153|
|Wellesley College||Wellesley, Mass.||34%||8||83.5%||$54,050||$36,299||$0||0%||$12,495|
|Bowdoin College||Brunswick, Maine||20%||9||89.6%||$55,290||$35,590||$1,000||9%||$18,229|
|Amherst College||Amherst, Mass.||15%||8||88.8%||$55,098||$39,098||$0||0%||$12,843|
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
looks like everyone has a right to be mad at senators saying give student loans to illegal immigrant kids. we should not give such loans. since they have not paid taxes. now private
colleges are giving admissions to foreign students since they pay more fees. this is also not
fair for families who have paid in taxes all their life in hopes that their kids will have chance
at a better college. our kids are left out since all the foreign kids take up more class spaces in college. the whole system of college education is a joke.
ordinary tax paying families with kids with high cost of education are left out. the system should be fair to all who have paid taxes in this country.
This discrimination has not just surfaced! I applied for a Soil Conservation Program Loan in 1969 and was turned down because I am Caucasian and was making too much money A wopping $600.00 per month. The Soil Conservation Officer told me "Mr. Ring, you make too much in salary and you ain't the right color for this loan". And the "Right Color" continues to bellyache over everything and contributes nothing!!
Kaplan University's prices are not that scope with other private colleges and you can actually take your college with you. The faculty are excellent. I earned a very good education from this institution that so very many criticize. Most universities and colleges have very similar Blackboard Internet interfaces for their classes. The resulting education is not owned by the school as much as it is the student.
If you take control of your own education, you will feel as though you have more power to choose.
I was not paid by my alma mater to write this. They are not perfect, just generally done well.
It is so very sad that some people use every single MSN article as a platform for their racist rants. Get a life and stop complaining. What does this article have to do with a soil loan that you didn't get from 1969? Are you really blaming Minorities for that, Im pretty sure "Whites" had the upper hand in 1969. It might be time to get off line and read a book. Whites in the USA receive more welfare, section 8, Educational grants and government aid then any other race.
Minorities and Foreigners are not your enemy. College could be free, if we didn't Bail Out and give huge Tax breaks to the rich.
And for those of you who don't know.... people like" Mr. yourvotedoesnotcount" get paid to spend all day answering online polls and spreading racist propaganda.
I can't believe so many people are still so ignorant, especially on MSN.com. Not sure if you know this but you can use that handy search button for research.
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