Michigan ranks No. 1 on Money’s new Best Colleges list as public universities rule

The revamped ratings on return on investment don't include highly selective institutions, which are on another list.
By: | May 17, 2022
Adobe Stock

Instead of falling into the trap of having its rankings be led by highly selective colleges, Money magazine decided to pull that group out of its annual “Best Colleges in America ranked by value” into a separate list. Its reasoning? “Those schools receive so many applications from so many qualified candidates that they could fill their classes multiple times over with students who have stellar credentials,” education editor Kaitlin Mulhere wrote in its analysis of the colleges and universities that are elite in terms of return on investment.

So while MIT and Princeton came in at 1 and 2 on that “other list” of just 48, Money took 623 of the remaining institutions that admit more than 20% of their applicants and made them the focus this year. The refreshed group of the best colleges and universities is led by a public school for only the second time in the list’s history.

Editors selected the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as its new No. 1, with Mulhere noting that it “boasts so many superlatives that it can be hard to keep track.” One of them is affordability, and with inflation rising and students questioning the value of postsecondary education, schools such as Michigan not only keep costs low ($18,800 after aid)—especially for in-state students—but also show their might after graduation with students at U-M earning more than $75,000 early in their career. Michigan also offers free tuition to those families who earn less than $65,000, providing 100% of demonstrated aid to students that need it.

“The university takes great pride in offering our students a world-class education while maintaining our commitment to affordability,” said Amy Dittmar, senior vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs. “We want our students to leave our campus set up for success, academically and financially. We work to support them through a number of mentoring programs, academic support resources, and dedicated staff. It is of utmost importance to us that each member of our community has the full opportunity to thrive in our challenging environment.”


More from UB: How does your college or university rank in 10 key categories in state


Michigan’s overall score reflects not only its ability to be affordable but to also provide high-quality learning experiences, extracurricular opportunities and a rich, diverse campus environment for students. The same can be said for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, which came in at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The goal of Money to provide a list that looked at quality, affordability and outcomes hit the mark.

“This year’s Best Colleges list is a new take on our long-standing commitment to helping families make a smart college choice,” said Money executive editor Mike Ayers. “We changed things up so more students could use this list to make educated choices about investing in their future.”

Massachusetts Maritime Academy, whose graduates earn $91,600 early in their career, and the Virginia Military Institute, came in at No. 4 and No. 5. The rest of the top 10 are all public institutions, too: Georgia Tech, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Florida, the University of Calfornia-Irvine and the University of California-Davis.

The small but highly acclaimed Washington and Lee was the highest-ranking private institution at No. 11. Three other private institutions from Massachusetts managed to crack the top 25, led by No. 13 Babson University, whose students pay about $33,000 after aid but earn more than $106,000 early in their careers; the highly affordable Wellesley College ($22,800) at No. 23; and Bentley University ($108,000 for early career earnings) at No. 24. The most affordable of them all, Barea College in Kentucky, which doesn’t charge for tuition, was at No. 20.

The most impressive performers, however, were the University of California and California State University. Combined, 27 of the 32 schools in the systems made it into the Top 100, including No. 12 UC-San Diego, No. 18 CSU-Long Beach, No. 19 CSU-Saint Stanislaus and No. 25 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.