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Locals rock Kiplinger’s list of ‘Best Values in Public Colleges’

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Once again, local colleges rocked Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges.”

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Twelve out of 100 public colleges and universities listed as 2014 “Best Values” by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine may be found in either Maryland or Virginia.

And outside of California or New York, no other state or region can boast such a high concentration of "best value" public institutions.

For 2014, the University of Virginia retained its second position on the list—just behind the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The College of William & Mary held on to number four, with the University of Maryland following at number seven.

“Value has become an increasingly important metric,” UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “Students and their families want to make smart investments in higher education with returns that include a quality education at a reasonable price, and dependable prospects for success after earning a degree.”

While most of the top 20 schools are on the east and west coasts, midwestern schools are “shooting up” in Kiplinger’s rankings. Several had especially strong showings this year with the University of Michigan breaking into the top ten at number six and the University of Wisconsin coming in at eight.

And while families continue shopping for bargains, the college financial landscape continues to look bleak with high “sticker” prices and the potential for crippling student debt. Financial aid isn’t keeping up with asking price and net price (what students actually pay) increased by 1.8% to an average of $12,620 (including room and board).

According to Kiplinger’s, state and local funding per full time student comes to $5,906 per year—the least in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980. And public colleges now rely more on tuition—or out-of-state enrollment—to make ends meet.

Kiplinger’s bases its rankings on a combination of academics and affordability, with “academic quality,” carrying more weight than cost. Total expenses for in-state students (tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, and books), as well as the availability of financial aid (not loans) and the average debt per student at graduation are factors in computing overall cost. Extra bonus points are awarded to colleges managing to keep borrowing low.

In this year’s ranking, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill came in number one for the 13th consecutive year for in-state students, and the University of Florida came in just behind UVa at number 3. Other top ten schools include UCLA (5), UC Berkeley (9), and the University of Georgia (10).

Kiplinger’s specifically applauded UVa for having the highest four-year graduation rate on the list and the second-lowest in-state cost ($5,070 on average) after need-based aid was applied. The College of William and Mary stayed in fourth place thanks to its strong academics—including a 12-to-1 student to faculty ratio and a 32% overall admission rate.

Other Virginia universities ranked in the top 100 for in-state were James Madison (22), Virginia Tech (27), the University of Mary Washington (61), George Mason University (72), and Christopher Newport University (84).

In Maryland, “Best Values” included St. Mary’s College of Maryland (48), Salisbury University (63), Towson University (86) and the University of Maryland Baltimore County (88).

For out-of-state students, Chapel Hill took over the top spot in part for its generous financial aid, which brings the average cost for nonresidents (after applying need-based aid) to $28,236. Virginia rose from number four last year to number two based on a generous financial aid program that drops total cost for out-of-state students to $32,456 (note that this program will undergo a significant change for next year).

Other local colleges also scored well among "best values" for nonresidents, with the College of William and Mary at number six and the University of Maryland College Park at number 14.

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