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Best Value Colleges Methodology
The schools that made our "Best Value Colleges for 2013" list are exceptional for two reasons—they provide stellar academics at an affordable cost—either via a comparatively low sticker price or generous financial aid (or both!). Students who attend these schools don't have to mortgage their futures to pay for their degrees.
We chose our Best Value Colleges for 2013 based on data we collected from fall 2011 through fall 2012 via our institutional and student surveys. Broadly speaking, we weighted more than 30 data points covering academics, costs and financial aid. We also considered the percentage of graduating seniors who borrowed from any loan program and the average debt those students had at graduation.
Following are the breakdown of ratings:
To tally this rating, we analyze a large amount of data the schools report to us about their academic selectivity and admissions, plus opinion data we collect from students reporting on the education they are receiving at their schools. The admissions statistics shed light on how difficult it is to gain acceptance: they include average SAT/ACT scores and the high school GPA of enrolled freshmen as well as other data factors. The student data reveals how students at the school rate their professors' teaching ability as well as how accessible the professors are outside of class.
Financial Aid Rating
This rating is also based on a combination of school-reported data and student opinion. We ask schools about the amount of need-based aid they give students. We then ask students how happy they are with their award packages. Very few students, it seems, are ever totally elated about their financial aid packages and the service (or lack thereof) that offices of financial aid provide. Nevertheless, students at some schools are a lot happier than students at other schools.
Tuition GPA (or the Real Cost of College)
We start with the sticker price of each college (often referred to as "cost of attendance," this figure includes tuition, required fees and room and board), and subtract the average gift aid (scholarships and grants) awarded to students. We don't subtract work-study or student loans, since those are costs that students ultimately have to bear. Next, we take all of this data and stir it up in an algorithm based on the idea that bang for your buck means excellent academics, great financial aid and/or low cost of attendance. Simply put, it means value.
Out of the 650 schools we considered in this project, the 150 we chose as our "Best Value Colleges for 2013" are, in our opinion truly the most exceptional in the nation at delivering great academics combined with affordable cost. These educationally outstanding schools demonstrate their value either by offering a very affordable sticker price right off the bat, or by making a higher tuition cost affordable to students with need that they admit. A school does the latter by distributing generous amounts of financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants, possibly combined, to a lesser degree, with work-study and loans. We strongly recommend and salute the colleges we present here for all that they do to help their students with need afford to attend them while delivering an amazing college experience that's worth every penny.