Report: These colleges offer the most value to students

MIT and two other traditional education powerhouses lead the top three in Money's annual study, while several state universities and smaller colleges fare well.
By: | August 25, 2020
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Faced with a number of choices and uneasiness over the Covid-19 pandemic, students now more than ever are looking for value when weighing their options to remain or enroll at colleges and universities. The more value, the more likely they can retain and attract new students.

On Tuesday, Money magazine released its annual Best Colleges for Your Money report. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, despite its price tag of more than $71,000 per year, was the leader among the 739 institutions on the list.

MIT rated first in a couple of other categories in the Money study, including best college for engineering and best college for computer science majors. It was followed by two other mainstays in the overall rankings – Stanford University and Princeton University. Princeton also made it into the Top 3 of schools with the lowest average debt per student.

Rounding out the top 10 were the University of Michigan, Duke University, the University of Virginia, Yale University, Vanderbilt University and two from the University of California system – UC San Diego and UC Davis. When factoring in average grants, all of them came in at less than $25,000 annually and left students with less than $18,000 in average debt, making them affordable without saddling them with hefty payments later on, according to the Money report.

“Choosing whether and where to go to college is one of the biggest financial decisions — and even more so this fall because of the pandemic,” said Kaitlin Mulhere, lead editor of Best Colleges and Education Editor at Money. “Nearly half of parents in a recent survey from consulting firm EAB said costs made them most anxious about their high schooler’s future college experience.”

Mulhere noted that this year’s results – based on quality of education, affordability and outcomes – came from 20,000 data points and included more weight on the net price of a degree and capturing costs for students at different income levels. It also considered graduation rates, tuition fees, student debt and career earnings.

According to a Hechinger Report study, more than 800 four-year colleges and universities have had declines in enrollment over the past 11 years, and that was before the pandemic. Institutions that can provide value are more likely to retain and attract new students.

One of the better value schools listed on Money‘s list was the California Institute of Technology, which rated No. 25 overall. Annual debt for students is less than $9,000 while early career earnings for grads are more than $81,000. Another California school, Harvey Mudd College led Money‘s early career earnings category at $81,800, however it was also listed as the third-highest priced school in the nation before financial aid at more than $78,000. The highest-priced was the University of Chicago at $80,400, followed by Columbia University ($78,700).

Along with Cal Tech, two other small schools from Virginia ranked high in value: No. 12 Washington and Lee University and No. 26 Virginia Military Institute. Despite its sticker price of $72,000 per year, Washington and Lee students rack up less than $20,000 in student debt and earn nearly $59,000 early in their careers.

The top three colleges for business majors all came from the Northeast: the City University of New York’s Baruch College and Massachusetts schools Babson College and Bentley University. Baruch College and many in the City of New York system are among the lowest-cost schools for students to attend after grants at less than $5,000 per year.

On the flip side, the three institutions with the least value in Money’s study were Fisk University in Tennessee, Oakwood University in Alabama and Alcorn State in Mississippi. All three have less than 50% graduation rates in addition to high student debt relative to early career earnings.

Other categories worth noting from Money’s study included:

  • Highest priced schools with average grants: Ringling College of Art and Design  ($52,800), the New School in New York City ($50,600) and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago ($49,900)
  • Best college where more than half the applicants will get in: Texas A&M University, Cal State Polytechnic University-Pomona and the University of Illinois
  • Most transformative colleges: San Jose State University, Maine Maritime Academy and Mount St. Mary’s in Los Angeles
  • Schools with highest graduation rate: Harvard (98%), Notre Dame (97%) and Yale ( 97%).
  • Schools with lowest average student debt: Berea College in Kentucky ($5,600), Cal Institute of Technology ($8,700) and Princeton University ($9,850).
  • Schools with the highest average student debt: Everglades University ($40,800), Dillard University ($32,960) and Claflin University ($32,500).