Top Values for Colleges and Universities

The factors that go into selecting a college are as plentiful and diverse as the students who enroll at universities each fall. Consumers Digest realizes that the cost of attending college shouldn’t be the only factor that a student considers when he/she selects an academic institution, but we believe that it is an important consideration for the many families who struggle to keep pace with the escalating price of higher education.

In determining our selections for the best values among colleges and universities, Consumers Digest narrowed the fields of public, private and liberal-arts colleges and universities through a preliminary evaluation of academic excellence by using CollegeBoard.com to determine the top 212 public, 81 private and 101 private liberal-arts colleges. Of these, 356 institutions supplied the necessary data. We then applied to each college or university a formula that balanced students’ academic excellence (standardized test scores, high-school rank and the grade-point average of entering freshmen) with the quality of education offered (as indicated by the student-to-faculty ratio, the 4-year graduation rate, the 6-year graduation rate, the student retention rate and the percentage of faculty who hold a doctorate or terminal degree) to compile a Value Index score for each institution. (Certain categories were weighted more heavily than others.) That score and the estimated cost of attending each college for the 2008-2009 academic year (tuition, fees, and room and board) were then applied to a formula to determine which schools offered the most academic value per dollar. We recognize the value of financial aid, but we didn’t factor it into our formula due to the inconsistencies by which colleges distribute aid.

Because our point-value system didn’t correlate across different segments from our three school groupings, value-index numbers from one school grouping, such as that for Public Colleges and Universities, can’t be compared with value-index numbers from our other two school groupings.

Total Cost is the sum of maximum annual tuition, fees, and room and board. For public universities, only nonresident tuition figures were considered, because attending a public school in your state of residence will almost always provide the best value for your education dollar. Military institutions and extremely specialized colleges that don’t charge tuition weren’t considered for this chart.