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Least and most affordable universities

The U.S. schools with the highest tuition and living expenses are not necessarily the least affordable, a new ranking shows.

By Karen Datko Aug 6, 2012 6:18PM

Image: College graduates (© Ariel Skelley / Blend Images/Getty Images)No. 1 on Newsweek's new list of least affordable U.S. schools is Sacred Heart University, with an annual price tag of $50,500.


At the top of Newsweek's list of most affordable schools is Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which charges $55,270 a year for tuition and on-campus living expenses.


Wait. How can mighty MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., be more affordable than little Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn., if it's $4,770 more expensive? As you should when you pick a college or university, Newsweek looked at a lot more than the list price of an education -- including the amount of financial aid available and graduates' future earning potential.


Keeping that in mind, here's how the two schools compare:

  • Percent of graduates with debt -- 99% for Sacred Heart, 44% for MIT.
  • Average debt of graduate -- $40,865 at Sacred Heart, $15,228 at MIT.
  • Percent of full-time students getting financial aid -- 92% at Sacred Heart, 88% at MIT.
  • Average amount of grant aid -- $14,452 at SH, $32,352 at MIT.
  • Starting median salary -- $44,800 for SH, $69,700 for MIT.
  • Mid-career salary -- $69,500 for SH, $115,000 for MIT. That must make for some generous alums.

"In other words," Newsweek wrote, "the schools that landed atop of our least affordable list may not have the highest sticker price, but when measured through a lens of earning potential as well as the average debt level of graduates, these are the schools where students are least able to shoulder the cost of their degree -- and where the education has an uneven record of being a valuable investment relative to other schools." (Post continues below.)

No comment yet from the Sacred Heart community. "Considering the statistic that if MIT were a country it would have the 11th largest economy, there's no surprise graduates are leaving with ample job opportunities," gloated BostInno about the results.


Given the total size of U.S. student loan debt and the growing rate of default, picking a school that gives you financial help while you're there plus a leg up on the job front should be top considerations when you're planning your college career. However, Newsweek also rated schools on less important attributes. (Note: If you rely solely on rankings like these to pick a college, perhaps you're not ready for the intellectual rigors of university life.)


Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Top party school (the criteria includes a look at alcohol- and drug-related arrests and disciplinary action) -- West Virginia University.
  • Happiest school -- Stanford University. Ninety-seven percent of students said that if they had to make the choice all over again, they'd still pick Stanford.
  • Most stressful (cost and financial aid were among the factors here) -- Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Most rigorous -- Columbia University, with a median SAT of 1480, and only 10% of applicants are admitted.
  • Least rigorous -- University of Central Florida, where 45% of applicants are admitted and the median SAT is 1185.
  • Most conservative -- Ave Maria University, where 70% of the student body said the student population is "very conservative."
  • Most liberal -- Warren Wilson College, where 100% of students rated the student body as "liberal."
  • Most beautiful, which includes not just the campus, but the weather and the students' looks -- Pacific Union College, where the female students were rated a 9.1 out of 10, and the men outperformed the women at 9.2. The student rating of campus aesthetics earned 9 out of a possible 10. 

How did your school rate? Did it make the grade? You can find all of the rankings here via The Daily Beast.

For a more detailed look at what individual colleges cost, check out the U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center, which examines just not tuition and living expenses, but also how much you can expect to pay after grants and scholarships are figured in.


More on MSN Money:

Aug 9, 2012 3:18PM
Of course you have 44% less debt when you graduate from MIT and Mommy & Daddy paid for at LEAST 40% of their graduates' education.  Also, the kids that get accepted to MIT are normally top of their class and get scholarships, etc.  Re-title this article "Least expensive schools- if you have rich parents or are a genius".  Otherwise, good luck to you!
Aug 9, 2012 2:31PM
Wow, where is your research, I thought I was going to learn something new from this article but it is nothing but bogus information. The beauty of 'copy and paste' for the new generation of reporters!
Aug 9, 2012 1:30PM
This is the WORST ARTICLE I HAVE EVER WASTED MY TIME WITH...  PRINCETON, HARVARD, in the top 10 most affordable??? WTF 

55k for school thats not cheap.. Have you looked at the job market MSN. You would be stuck in that debt for decades.  I graduated USF with a FINANCE degree and it was less than a 4th of that. (In State)
Aug 9, 2012 1:30PM
WVU has always been the best in something.  Now we all know just what that something is.  I could only "hang" with the PhD partiers for just one semester.  The school is a very good school in just about everything.  Very nice location and great sports teams.
Aug 9, 2012 3:58PM
just wasted 2 minutes of my life reading this article....
Aug 9, 2012 2:27PM

In response to Nick874, their financial aid covers most of the tuition. It's need-blind, which means that, no matter who you are, you can count on graduating from Princeton or Harvard practically debt free.


Another thing to consider is the job opportunities after graduation. How many Harvard graduates do you think are having a hard time finding work? If any employer sees "Harvard", that applicant had a cushy new job.


Just saying.... And, while I already knew this stuff, it is all outlined in the article. Maybe you should read the entire article before denouncing its validity.

Aug 10, 2012 8:41AM
My husband's parents did not attend college.  They were OK but far from rich.  He attended MIT on a full academic scholarship then spent over 20 years as an Air Force officer.  You do not have to have 'rich' parents to attend MIT - just good grades.
Aug 9, 2012 7:53PM
What this story is really about is how deceiving statistics can really be. Statistics lie and liars use statistics.
Aug 30, 2012 10:13AM
Most college level schools are attended for the name--prestiage standing only for bragging rights in name only.  There are plenty of GREAT colleges/universities without the so-called name. Why pay more than necessary for the name? 
Sep 22, 2013 4:02AM
Lets face it almost 90% of the colleges are busy ripping us and it's getting harder to find affordable colleges!
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