15 March 2007

Kiplinger 100: Best Values in Private Education

College rankings are, for the most part, useless. I believe that college selection is an individual choice that cannot be summed up by rankings. Still, many students chase the same elusive top schools, as though "winning" admission to one of them is the only means by which their high school success (and future success) can be measured. Yet, what may be the #1 school for one student may not be on another students radar. I don't know how that gets factored into rankings.

Kiplinger's, as usual, provides some specific, targeted advice in their current article, Kiplinger 100: Best Values in Private Colleges. The idea behind their rankings is to compare colleges, both research universities and liberal arts colleges, on the basis of the quality of their education versus the relative costs to the students and their families. Also, the article brings to light some disturbing issues that many students face at this time of year.

When Andrew Kositsky applied to colleges several years ago, complicated circumstances prevented him from receiving much family support or qualifying for need-based aid. Rather than abandon his dream of attending an Ivy League institution, Kositsky, of Lummi Island, Wash., considered borrowing $100,000 to foot the bill. "I thought it would be worth it because I'd only go to college once. I wanted the decision to be made irrespective of money."
Then he talked to Caltech, where a flexible approach to financial aid meant that he could attend a top program without mortgaging his future. "Not only was Caltech understanding in the first place, but it was also willing to listen in case the dynamic changed," says Kositsky. His package, which includes federal and institutional aid, covers about three-fourths of the cost. Kositsky and his family pay the rest.

When Kositsky graduates next year, he plans to share his enthusiasm for math by teaching, a profession he couldn't have pursued had he been saddled with six-figure debt. This brainy kid now recognizes a no-brainer: "Looking back, I'm glad I made the choice not to take out those loans."
I suspect that all too many students (and their families) approach paying for college more in line with Kositsky's first statements - "I only go to college once..." is a familiar refrain.

So, which colleges do manage to blend high quality education, while remaining light on the wallet? The top 10 universities are as follows:


Cost After Need-
Based Aid
Need MetAid From
Cost After Non-
Need-Based Aid
Based Aid
Average Debt
1California Institute of Technology, PasadenaCA89117%

2Yale University, New HavenCT5,40910%

3Harvard University, CambridgeMA6,6499%

4Rice University, HoustonTX3,18525%

5Duke University, DurhamNC6,53422%

6Princeton University, PrincetonNJ4,90611%

7Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CambridgeMA4,06614%

8Emory University, AtlantaGA6,51037%

9Columbia University, New YorkNY4,22511%

10University of Pennsylvania, PhiladelphiaPA9,84121%


Now, this is an impressive list of schools. They are Top 10, after all. But, how realistic is this collection of schools to the average - heck, even top college students. Only one school admits more than one-quarter of their applicant pool, and Emory (37%) is still no guarantee for most students. 60% of the schools on this list (the Ivies and MIT) offer no merit-based scholarships, so if you don't want to open the pocketbook at these schools, you need to exhibit financial need. Even the schools that do offer merit awards only do so for the top of the applicant pool, or students with special talents that the university seeks.

You can find the complete list of liberal arts colleges here. The statistics are going to be eerily similar. Here, four of the Top 10 admit more than one-quarter (Davidson, Washington and Lee, Colgate, and Wellesley), but only one admits more than one-third (Wellesley - 34%). Getting in will be more than half the battle here, too. Five of the ten do not offer merit-based scholarships, either.

Scour the lists, though, as there are a number of schools that admit a good percentage from their applicant pool, and offer excellent merit-based scholarship opportunities. A brief, cursory glance yields a list including these choices:

Centre College, KY - 63% of their applicant pool admitted; 83% receive some merit aid.
DePauw University (IN), Austin College (TX), Wabash College (IN), Agnes Scott College (GA), and Illinois Wesleyan all admit more than 50% of their applicant pool and offer more than 50% of their admitted students merit-based aid.

On the university side, Trinity University in San Antonio, TX meets the same 50/50 profile. So does Case Western Reserve (OH), Whitworth College (WA), Drake University (IA), Gonzaga University (WA), Butler University (IL), and Valparaiso University in Indiana.

It seems to me that based on those results your best bets for affordable quality schooling can be found in Indiana and at some of the country's better faith-based schools. As with everything else, though, these rankings should be taken at face value, and only considered as part of the college admission decision process.

1 comment:

Tom Anderson said...

Hi Travelin' Man,

I'm doing a story on Zecco and DCA. I wanted to get your thoughts on Zecco's trading platform. I noticed your posts on Bargaineering.com. Please give me a call at 202.887.6493 or send me an email at tanderson@kiplinger.com


Tom Anderson
Associate editor
Kiplinger's Personal Finance