Online degrees may be the buzz in higher education, but for the majority of students, traditional residential colleges and universities are usually the best choice. The conventional on-campus college experience provides a lot of opportunities and support that online programs do not, especially for traditional college-aged students (18-25). While online programs may have excellent instructors, it is much easier to develop a mentoring relationship with faculty in an on-campus program, essential for young people who are still working to find their path in life. And though online may be more flexible and convenient for self-motivated students, most of us benefit from the camaraderie and positive peer pressure of being around other students.
There are more than 6000 colleges and universities in the US, and it can be difficult for prospective students, especially young people, to know how to choose. Do you go with the college nearest your home, or venture across the country? Public or private? Large, small, or in-between? The answers to those questions depend on what kind of person you are and what you want to do, but one question too often goes unasked until it’s too late – which college is the best investment?
The financial questions are especially important for first-generation students, students from a disadvantaged background, and students who are paying their own way without family support. Value Colleges is here for those students – the ones who need to know, before they spend years of their life and potentially many thousands of dollars, whether the education they get will be worth the price they pay.
To set our parameters, we used College Scorecard, the database of information gathered from the Department of Education federal student loan program. We set filters for colleges at or below the national average cost, with a high graduation rate (better than 50%) and average graduate salary above the national average. From that initial list fitting our criteria, we ranked over 250 colleges and universities by:
- ROI (according to Scorecard data)
- Cost (according to IPEDS)
- Reputation (according to U.S. News & World Report)
Note: readers should be aware that College Scorecard data is based only on students who filed for federal financial aid (FAFSA); students who did not, are not calculated, so statistics may be somewhat skewed, especially for colleges that appeal to wealthier students.
University of Florida
U.S. News & World Report ranks the Value Colleges #1 Best Value, the University of Florida, in the top 15 of public universities, and the top 50 of all national schools, from Ivy League to regional colleges. UF is Florida’s land, sea, and space-grant institution, and while it is not the biggest college in Florida, it is the historic leader in research of all sorts; UF has been at the center of everything from the invention of Gatorade (developed for the legendary Florida Gators football team) to some of the largest engineering marvels of the space age.
Florida is also known for its ambition; as other Florida universities have begun overtaking it in enrollment, UF has redoubled their efforts to crack the top 10 in national rankings. UF is best known for their engineering and business schools, though their national significance in medical research and nursing education are well worth mention. UF has also been recognized for community service and social mobility, providing working-class Floridians access to professional careers through top-notch education for well over a century. It’s that success that makes the University of Florida a model Best Value.
Cost: $6,363 per year
Brigham Young University
A private Church of Latter-Day Saints institution, Brigham Young University is one of the most respected research universities in the west, renowned for its educational excellence and affordability. The BYU student body is overwhelmingly Mormon, though membership in the church is not necessary for admission. BYU has been recognized both as a top value, and as one of the most educationally rigorous schools in the nation, guided by a strict honor code and high academic expectations.
One of BYU’s greatest strengths is its commitment to undergraduate research; students benefit from numerous programs designed to involve undergraduate students in high-level academic research, giving BYU a reputation as one of the best universities for undergraduate students who want to go on to graduate and doctoral education. Some of BYU’s most decorated programs include the Marriott School of Management, the Fulton College of Engineering & Technology, and the Clark Law School. Tuition is low, especially for Mormon students, due to the generous financial support of the LDS Church, making it a perennial value.
Cost: $5,150 per year
Baruch College (CUNY)
Before Baruch College, there was the Free Academy, an ambitious experiment to provide free education in an era when there was no other option in New York City besides expensive private universities. That experiment came to an end, but by the mid-20th century it had morphed into Baruch College, today part of the world-renowned City University of New York system and one of the most decorated colleges in the nation: a top college for social mobility, and one of the most distinguished regional institutions in the north.
Baruch College is best known for the Zicklin School of Business, and in fact the college as a whole began as a premiere business school. Baruch has a deep network of connections to the New York City business sector, as well as numerous centers for interdisciplinary research. Baruch’s combination of reasonable tuition and excellent career prospects have made it a trustworthy name for return on investment; graduates can count on a strong showing on the job market.
Cost: $7,301 per year
The State University of New York system is one of the largest, most respected public higher education systems in the nation, neck-and-neck with the CUNY, University of California, and California State University systems. While SUNY Plattsburgh is not the biggest or most famous (like fellow system members Buffalo or Stony Brook), Plattsburgh is well-known in the northeast as a top value, combining solid educational quality with manageable tuition rates and strong job market reputation.
SUNY Plattsburgh has been highly ranked as a public regional university, and students come to Plattsburgh especially for their education program; one of the best schools of education in the state, Plattsburgh educates many of New York’s teachers. Because of its location in the northeastern corner of New York State, Plattsburgh also has unique programs in Canadian culture and Expeditionary Studies (outdoors activities like rock climbing and kayaking). Plattsburgh is a smart choice for any student in upstate New York, and one of the best values in the northeast.
Cost: $7,850 per year
California State Polytechnic University
Polytechnic universities, focused as they are on high-order STEM research and education, are some of the best institutions for high ROI and career success; they are perennial best values at any price. But the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona – Cal Poly Pomona, for short – combines the high return of a polytechnic with the affordable tuition rates of a California State University system school for the win.
Originally a branch of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona didn’t take long to become a major research university in its own right. Ranked in the top 5 regional public universities for the West, Cal Poly Pomona is highly regarded for engineering, especially civil engineering (with the largest civil engineering program by student body in the nation). Pomona’s business programs are also highly respected, and their student body is one of the most diverse in the nation. It’s an ideal combination of factors to make a top value.
Cost: $6,976 per year
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
The first public university founded in the United States (though William & Mary is older, it was founded as a private college), the University of North Carolina has had over two centuries to perfect public higher education, and for its work it has been hailed as an original Public Ivy (a public university with Ivy League stature) and a U.S. News & World Report top 5 public university. It has also been recognized by Kiplinger’s and the Princeton Review as a top value for its reasonable tuition and academic excellence, securing UNC’s reputation in any realm.
UNC is most recognized for their health and medical education, as the home of the UNC Health Care system, but UNC has been a center of scholarly research and culture for the state of North Carolina in nearly every arena, from literature and theater to public health and policy. As part of the Research Triangle, a region bordered by UNC, Duke University, and North Carolina State University, UNC has been at the forefront of modern technology, business, and industry. Ivy League excellence at state school prices has made UNC the choice for generations North Carolina students.
Cost: $8,562 per year
James Madison University
Ranked #2 among regional universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report, James Madison University is also one of the most selective and rigorous public institutions in the region. JMU preserves their top-notch reputation by accepting only the best students, and providing them with world-class professors in a low faculty to student ratio. Their excellence has earned them recognition from the world’s most respected ranking agencies.
JMU is best known for their School of Business, recognized by BusinessWeek as one of the top 5 programs for undergraduates and one of the best overall business schools in the nation. In addition to a top business program, JMU’s young School of Engineering is enjoying significant attention for their emphasis on environmental sustainability, focusing the use of applied sciences to improving the state of the natural world. With educational excellence and a high return on investment, James Madison University secures a sound place in the top 10 best values.
Cost: $10,018 per year
California State University Long Beach
Like Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Long Beach is part of the globally-respected California State University system; it has one of the largest and most diverse student bodies in the West, with a high proportion of Asian-American, African-American, and Latino/a students; and CSULB has a high social mobility ranking, raising thousands of students from low-income and disadvantaged situations to professional careers. It’s no surprise that CSULB has become one of the most selective colleges in the region – so many students want to take advantage of that excellence, Long Beach just can’t hold them all.
CSU Long Beach has the largest physics program, the largest College of Arts, and the largest nursing student body in the state of California; all of these programs are recognized as among the best in the region as well. Further, Long Beach’s engineering program is ranked in the top 50 nationally by U.S. News & World Report, with one of the strongest freshman engineering initiatives in the country. The price students pay for CSU Long Beach promises low debt and high returns, making them a university for the future.
Cost: $6,452 per year
University of California, Berkeley
photo by Daniel Parks
Widely considered the greatest public higher education system in the world, the University of California is home to some of that nation’s most respected universities, none more renowned than flagship UC Berkeley. One of the original Public Ivies (alongside UNC, #6), UC Berkeley is one of the most productive of the major public research institutions, with some of the world’s most award-winning faculty and a tremendous amount of publications and patents in every area of research, from humanities to STEM.
Berkeley’s schools of business and engineering are nationally recognized at the top, as are computer science and chemistry. Berkeley’s English department has long been considered the most innovative and daring in the US, and many other departments and schools have been ranked in the top 10 and top 5 of their respective fields. While Berkeley is not the cheapest of public universities, its unmatched reputation and job market influence make sure that every penny spent is worth it.
Cost: $13,432 per year
Truman State University
A small, regional university in Kirksville, MO, Truman State University may be a bit of a surprise on the Best Values ranking, especially compared to many of the heavy hitters that surround it, but don’t be fooled – Truman State is one of the best educational investments in the Midwest. Originally a teacher’s college, Truman State’s reputation has steadily grown since being named Missouri’s top liberal arts and sciences university, with a high rate of selectivity for a public university and the kind of faculty-student ratios and attention usually seen in much more elite settings.
Truman State prides itself on a high level of undergraduate research, with bachelor’s students having the opportunity to pursue the kind of independent research usually offered to graduate students at other institutions, working closely with faculty members on real scholarly pursuits. With U.S. News & World Report recognition as the #1 regional university in the Midwest, Truman State’s reputation makes it a strong presence in the job market, with some 90% of graduates finding placement in graduate school or in their careers.
Cost: $7,430 per year
Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology – Georgia Tech to its friends – is another of that relatively rare beast (like Cal Poly, #5), the public polytechnic institute. Georgia Tech owes its existence to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, and the foresight of two former Confederate officers who saw the need for the South to catch up to the Industrial Revolution that had already begun, giving the North an economic advantage over the former Confederacy.
Today, Georgia Tech has more than achieved its original goals; it is at the heart of Atlanta’s world-class resurgence and is the center of engineering and technology research and education in the South. As a research institution, Georgia Tech is the rival of universities like Stanford and MIT, and a leader in many sectors of industry. While Tech is best known for engineering and computing, its School of Business has also been rising in reputation, fueled by, and in turn fueling, Atlanta’s massive business sector. Georgia Tech graduates can count on their degree to take them just about anywhere – a secure value.
Cost: $12,204 per year
University of Maryland - College Park
The flagship of the University of Maryland system, UM College Park is a U.S. News & World Report top 20 public institution and one of the most significant universities in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Its proximity to the nation’s capital is UMCP’s greatest asset, as it has given the university unprecedented opportunity to build connections to government agencies, earn federal grants, and place students in highly competitive internships within the government, non-profits, and industry – not to mention the job market.
Funding from the NSF, the NIH, Homeland Security, and other government agencies has made the University of Maryland one of the most successful and productive research institutions in the nation, and gives students matchless access to innovative research in everything from space exploration to health. UMD is well known for their engineering, health, and behavioral and social sciences, as well as a strong current of entrepreneurship. As one of the smartest colleges in the nation, the University of Maryland is one of the smartest investments.
Cost: $9,996 per year
Think of UCLA as the flashier, more Hollywood younger sibling to UC Berkeley; as the second public university in the UC system, UCLA’s Los Angeles location has made it one of the most recognizable campuses in the world, since it has been the site of many films and television shows. But UCLA is much more than famous – it is one of the highest-ranked universities in the nation, named not only the #2 public university in the US (by U.S. News & World Report) but one of the top 10 in the world.
UCLA excels in a number of disciplines, not the least being medicine and health care, as the home of the UCLA Medical center and top medical, nursing, dentistry, and public health programs. Of course, UCLA is one of the nation’s pre-eminent choices for degrees in film and communications, as graduates have a straight shot to the industry. UCLA’s programs in business and engineering are also well-regarded, making it one of the best universities all around, and a best value at any tuition price.
Cost: $12,753 per year
University of Texas at Austin
Another of the original Public Ivies, the University of Texas is the heart of Texas’ education and research – the premiere institution in the state. Austin is as much as watchword for excellence as Berkeley or Chapel Hill, and the city is legendary for its culture, art, and music, all directly tied to the presence of UT. With its reputation and desirability, UT’s admissions rate makes it one of the most selective universities in the south, a status increased by UT’s promise to accept Texas’ top high school graduates automatically.
UT’s nationally and globally-respected programs are many; on the STEM side, UT’s schools of engineering and pharmacy are among the best in the nation, while the UT School of Law, the School of Public Affairs, and the School of Business are rated in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report. A thriving tech economy makes Austin a destination for young entrepreneurs and technicians, and UT contributes greatly to that industry, giving graduates a strong presence on the job market and making a UT degree a proven mark of quality.
Cost: $9,830 per year
The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina
Regularly ranked as the top regional public institution in the South, The Citadel is one of the nation’s six elite military colleges, known for its academic rigor, discipline, and exceptional return on investment. The biggest reason for that high return is The Citadel’s reputation; Citadel graduates are unusually successful, because the Citadel accept only the best, and only the best of the best graduate. Quite simply, coming through The Citadel means something, and whether your course is career military or private civilian life, employers know what to expect of a Citadel graduate.
While the vast majority of The Citadel’s students are military cadets, The Citadel offers non-cadet programs too, both on-campus and online. The Citadel’s engineering programs are considered some of the best in the nation, especially civil engineering, while their business programs also have high marks. For obvious reasons, the Citadel is especially respected in programs such as political science, cybersecurity, and criminal justice. For military students, it’s the cream of the crop, and one of the best values in the South.
Cost: $12,568 per year
Purdue News Service by Andrew Hancock
Purdue University is one of the leading lights of the Midwest – a large public research institution that has had a hand both in important academic discoveries and forming the culture and spirit of the area. Purdue is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a top 25 public university, and its many interdisciplinary research projects, as well as intensive relationships with Indiana’s private industry, have given it a significant level of influence on the job market and economy.
As a land-grant institution, Purdue University was founded to further research and practice in agriculture and applied sciences like mechanical engineering, areas in which Purdue still shines. But due to early investment in aviation education, Purdue has been a pioneer of flight research, both on earth and outer space – including educating more astronauts than any other single school. Purdue is also known for its cutting-edge humanities research, such as the first Online Writing Lab (known as the Purdue OWL). With the Purdue name, graduates can count on a strong return from a rewarding career.
Cost: $10,002 per year
University of Iowa
When Iowa was admitted to the US as a state, they wasted no time establishing a university in what was then the capital, Iowa City. The capital moved, but the college remained, and besides standing as the center of Iowa’s academic and scholarly activity, the University of Iowa has been a major force in standing for equality and progress. From its founding UI was the first coed public university, a pioneer in racial integration, and the first public institution to formally recognize gay and lesbian students. Its openness and innovative spirit have made it one of the top public universities in the nation.
UI may be best known for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, an elite creative writing program that has graduated and employed a staggering number of Pulitzer and other literary prize winners. Iowa has also been recognized for their work in engineering, health care (including medicine, nursing, and pharmacy), and public policy. With their quality and reputation, it’s no surprise that UI made the revised list of Public Ivies, or that their affordable tuition has helped them attain Best Value status.
Cost: $8,104 per year
Founded before the American Revolution (making it one of the elite Colonial Colleges), and a founding member of the Ivy League, Princeton University is everything we think of when we think of educational excellence. With the highest endowment per student of any US university, Princeton has educated Nobel Prize winners, Supreme Court justices, and senators. Princeton’s engineering, business, and public affairs programs are models for American higher education, and only the highest-performing students need apply.
Princeton is also considered the best financial value in the Ivy League – not only are Princeton’s admissions need-blind (meaning students at all economic levels are considered equally), it has the lowest rate of student debt in the nation, since all students’ financial needs are met by grants and on-campus work – no Princeton student ever has to take out a student loan. So don’t think about the sticker price – think about the return.
Cost: $43,450 per year
Stony Brook University (SUNY)
Stony Brook University hasn’t been around as long as some of its fellow Best Values, having been founding in just 1957 as a state college, but it has grown in reputation and quality quite impressively. A top 40 public university, Stony Brook is known as one of the best values in the Northeast, with one of the lowest tuition rates of any college in its class, and a high level of success in sending graduates to elite graduate schools and top-notch jobs. Stony Brook is one of the most trusted names in the SUNY system.
Stony Brook is a sea and space-grant university, and its coastal location has made it a significant research institution for ocean and atmospheric study. Scientists at Stony Brook have made major discoveries in areas as far removed as the surface of the moon, and as locally important as Lyme disease. Students are drawn to Stony Brook for STEM fields like physics and engineering, for medical and healthcare programs, and for psychology and political science. With Stony Brook’s excellent value, it’s very unlikely for graduates to leave disappointed.
Cost: $8,855 per year
University of Virginia
From the archetypal college town of Charlottesville, VA, the University of Virginia – like UNC (#6) and UT Austin (#14) – defines what it means to be a Public Ivy. UVA’s pedigree is no less substantial than any elite institution, formed by three Founding Fathers (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe) and recognized as a World Heritage Site (the only college so named). UVA counts among its accomplishments the highest graduation rate for African-American students of any elite university, making it a major force in educational diversity.
The University of Virginia is internationally respected as one of the finest medical schools in the world, having made some of the most important research findings in the field in the last century; UVA’s schools of business and law are regularly cited as the best among public universities. Students attending UVA can count on one of the most decorated faculties in the nation, and graduates benefit from a reputation that rivals any other university on the job market, giving UVA a staggering ROI and solidifying its status as a true value.
Cost: $14,526 per year
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Another of the original Public Ivies, the University of Michigan is one of the most significant public research institutions in the nation, with an endowment of over $10 billion and some of the most cutting-edge work in the world in fields as diverse as biotechnology, political polling, and digital humanities (including the revolutionary JSTOR initiative, an online database of scholarly writing that inspired Google Books). At home in one of the nation’s most beloved college towns, Ann Arbor, MI, the University of Michigan is a superior example of the best public higher education.
As Michigan’s flagship university, UM brings students from all walks of life to excellent programs in all fields, with engineering and business counting as some of the most popular. Other programs such as nursing, kinesiology, and planning and policy are highly regarded and attract a strong field of students; the recently opened School of Information is finding growing success as well. Whatever their choice, graduates have the University of Michigan reputation to carry with them into their professional life.
Cost: $14,336 per year
The #1 dream college in the US, Stanford University didn’t get that way overnight – it was a simple technical college (in fact, its official name is still Stanford Junior University) until the growth of computing after WWII. Quite simply, Stanford University is the reason Silicon Valley exists, as the university’s mid-20th century entrepreneurship and foresight led it to develop businesses in cooperation with enterprising students and faculty. Today, it is the single biggest fundraiser in higher education – not to mention the college most likely to make you a billionaire.
Obviously, computer science dominates at Stanford, but medicine and engineering are close behind. Stanford is the most selective university in the nation, since so many more students apply than can possibly be admitted; only the best of the best, both in academics and in vision, are accepted. But there’s a reason Stanford can be considered a value: besides its exceptionally high ROI, Stanford also has a no-loan policy: all students with a household income below $150,000 can have their tuition paid with scholarships and grants, so Stanford graduates emerge with no debt – and the world at their feet.
Cost: $46,320 per year
University of California, San Diego
A U.S. News & World Report top 10 public university – and, as part of the University of California system, regularly ranked as one of the best universities in the world – UC San Diego stands toe to toe with Berkeley and UCLA as a prime choice for students in California and throughout the world. Many students and faculty come to UCSD for its location, with year-round warm weather and a world-class collection of public art on one of the most beautiful campuses in the world.
Thanks to its home city, and its affiliation with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD is one of the first choices for students in that field. UCSD’s social science program is its most popular. As the home of the only academic medical center in the Southern California border region, UCSD’s medical, pharmacy, and nursing schools are extremely well-received and regarded as some of the best in the nation. With a wealth of options and Public Ivy quality, UCSD earns its often-cited status as a top value.
Cost: $14,042 per year
University of California, Davis
UC Davis is a unique institution in the University of California system; not as much a household name as Berkeley and UCLA, Davis is the third-largest of the UC schools. Originally the University of California farm, Davis is one of the dozen best public universities according to U.S. News & World Report. UC Davis has also been named one of the coolest universities in the nation, in part thanks to its social activism, environmentalism, and internationally-praised bicycling infrastructure.
In line with its farm origins, UC Davis is known around the world for its Department of Viticulture and Enology (grape cultivation and wine-making), a significant force in California’s exploding wine industry. Besides its agricultural innovations, Davis has high marks for related fields like environmental science, veterinary science, and biology. Students seeking degrees in applied sciences and looking for a home that values environmental sustainability will find a perfect educational investment in Davis, CA.
Cost: $13,951 per year
University of Mary Washington
The University of Mary Washington is not a household name, but it has earned accolades nationally as a best value and high-quality institution. Originally a women’s college for teacher education and applied sciences, UMW gained more prominence when it was adopted as the University of Virginia’s women’s college (when UVA only admitted men). Today it is a small liberal arts university regularly ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 public college.
With its roots in teacher education, UMW’s School of Education remains one of its strongest programs, while its nursing education has been steadily growing in reputation and size, with a newly added BSN completion program giving registered nurses the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degree. Students rate UMW’s amenities highly, and a large number of student organizations and activities make campus life desirable for many Virginia students who want the attention of a small liberal arts college with the affordability of a state-supported school.
Cost: $10,974 per year
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Known as the Harvard of the Sky, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is one of the first, and certainly the most respected, aerospace and aeronautics-focused university in the world. While Embry-Riddle may have its origin in a small school for pilots and mechanics, they have parlayed their excellence in applied science, engineering, and computing – all rooted in those early mechanics courses – into a globally-recognized system of campuses that have produced astronauts, CEOs, and military officers.
Of course, aeronautics and aerospace-related fields are still Embry-Riddle’s greatest strengths, from aerospace engineering to unmanned flight systems, robotics to human factors. But in recent years, Embry-Riddle has developed a healthy reputation for business and management, and a deep relationship with the military has led to the development of some of the most successful intelligence and security programs in the world. Embry-Riddle combines a high ROI with top-tier quality to make for a trusted name and great value.
Cost: $33,218 per year
University of Northern Iowa
A mid-sized, public institution, the University of Northern Iowa has ranked at the very top of U.S. News & World Report’s regional ranking in the Midwest for over a decade. Having its start as a normal school (teacher’s college), UNI provides students in the area access to a top-notch education, with low tuition rates and the attention and support that a small school can offer – a value noticed by Kiplinger’s and many others.
UNI’s business programs are very well received, especially accountancy, where they have one of the highest rates of passing for CPA exams. Not surprisingly, since they are rooted in teacher education, UNI has the best teacher education program in the state, and one of the strongest in the region. For a school of its size, UNI has a high proportion of students studying abroad, while their military-friendly status gives them students all around the world, including active duty personnel and veterans. The University of Northern Iowa’s reputation just keeps growing.
Cost: $7817 per year
Vanderbilt is known for rigorous and collaborative academics, top-notch research, a vibrant and supportive living-learning environment, generous financial aid, and an urban location in the booming city of Nashville, TN. Like Princeton (#18) and Stanford (#22), Vanderbilt University has used its endowment to make its education financially accessible to any student admitted: admissions are uninfluenced by financial need for U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens, and all students’ demonstrated financial need is met with grants rather than student loans.
Vanderbilt is known as a major research university, while also earning top rankings for undergraduate teaching. An 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio gives students access to faculty across academic disciplines, and more than 50 percent of undergraduates participate in research. Vanderbilt encourages academic flexibility so that students can explore subject areas across all four undergraduate schools, while also delving deeply into at least one major area of study. From engineering to the humanities, Vanderbilt is a global leader in education and research, attracting top students from around the country and the world.
Cost: $45,610 per year
Florida State University
Florida State University is one of the two official “preeminent” universities in Florida, along with the University of Florida. While UF is the flagship, Florida State is actually the oldest college in the state, founded in 1851. A top 50 public university, FSU has been consistently ranked a best value by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review. Their College of Business is a top 40 nationally, while the College of Medicine is recognized as one of the best medical schools for Hispanic students.
Florida State’s strengths lie in the social sciences, as they are recognized as among the very best for programs in criminal justice/criminology, public policy, information studies, and more. FSU also leads the state in STEM grant funding, so while they may not be the most celebrated, they are one of the most productive research universities in the south. FSU’s tuition rate is exceptionally low, making it one of the most reliable values for students in Florida and abroad.
Cost: $6,507 per year
The largest non-research-intensive public university in Maryland, Towson University began its life as Maryland’s teacher’s college, and has grown over its life into a significant part of Maryland’s higher education landscape. Recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 regional master’s institution, Towson is, perhaps more importantly, one of the best values in a region not particularly known for low prices.
Not surprisingly, Towson is still the most important institution for teaching education; more of Maryland’s schoolteachers graduate from Towson than any other university. Towson’s College of Business and Economics is also highly regarded, having a rare undergraduate program in e-business and an exceptional finance program that allows students to trade stocks in real markets. Students in health sciences also find Towson attractive, including the second-largest nursing program in Maryland. Towson offers Maryland’s students a great deal, making it a clear value in anyone’s book.
Cost: $9,182 per year
University of Washington
The Pacific Northwest would likely be a very different place without the University of Washington, the flagship public research university in Seattle. Like Stanford’s impact on Silicon Valley, there would be no tech industry in Seattle without U-Dub, one of the nation’s most productive research institutions. UW leads all public universities in federal grant funding, with a budget of well over $1 billion going to groundbreaking work in engineering, medicine, and business.
The University of Washington also has a reputation for accessibility, making significant initiatives to attract high-performing low-income students and to provide real financial assistance to students who need it. That commitment, called the Husky Promise, has made UW a key to social mobility in Seattle and the state of Washington, with as many as a third of all students receiving support. It’s no wonder the University of Washington is known as a best value.
Cost: $12,394 per year
Like Vanderbilt University (#28), Rice University is one of those elite institutions sometimes known as the Southern Ivies – the top-tier, highly selective private research universities with the funding and reputation to rival the Ivy League. Founded by wealthy industrialist William Marsh Rice upon his death (though delayed by a murder and fraud case well worth Googling), Rice was designed to combine the best possible liberal arts and technical education of the day to educate leaders for the modern world.
Today Rice is a major research hub best known for trailblazing studies in areas such as nanotechnology, computing, space science, and biology. Rice is a top 20 national university according to U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the highest-quality undergraduate educations in the world. Like many of the Ivy League, Rice is considered a best value because of their generous financial aid; students with family income of less than $80,000 will have their need met with grants, and students above that level can receive token loans that will never put them in insurmountable debt.
Cost: $42,253 per year
University of California, Irvine
The University of California, Irvine, has its home in Irvine, an unusual planned city built by the Irvine Company as a haven for industry, business, and education. One of the safest cities in America, Irvine has grown alongside the university, a research and academic leader recognized for its excellence and diversity. With strong connections to the many businesses that also call Irvine home, UCI is a major contributor to the economy, and offers students an unbeatable opportunity on the job market.
UC Irvine is best known for its medical programs, as the home of the UC Irvine Medical Center, with top programs in medicine, nursing, and public health. Other areas of influence including law and criminal justice, computer science, and the humanities, especially English and literary studies. UCI has an exceptionally high proportion of Asian-American and Hispanic students, making it one of the most diverse institutions in the nation, while its reasonable tuition rate has made it known as a best value.
Cost: $14,577 per year
University of North Carolina Wilmington
Part of the noted UNC system, UNC Wilmington is a mid-sized teaching and research university, the only public university on the North Carolina coast. Originally an extension campus for UNC, UNCW has come into its own over its history, steadily growing into a doctoral institution and building a strong grounding in research, especially in healthcare professions, one of UNCW’s strengths, and marine science, facilitated by its coastal location.
Regularly ranked as a top value for the South, UNC Wilmington has been most recognized for their health sciences, nursing, and social work programs, while their business and film degrees have been growing in prominence due to Wilmington’s solid television and movie industry. UNCW is best known as a value for students in North Carolina and the south, offering quality degree programs at a low price, and as a best choice for military students, including personnel from nearby Camp Lejeune.
Cost: $6,647 per year
Appalachian State University
On the opposite end of the University of North Carolina system from Wilmington, Appalachian State University is a mid-sized university in the Appalachian Mountain town of Boone, a small college town in which students outnumber full-time residents. While the area surrounding Appalachian State is known for winter sports, hiking, and mountain-climbing, ASU has also been recognized as one of the ten best regional universities in the South thanks to its excellent faculty, as well as a top value.
Students interested in Appalachian folk culture are attracted to ASU, which has highly-respected programs studying the region, for obvious reasons, but Appalachian State is also known for its strong environmental science and sustainability efforts. ASU’s reputation for community engagement and social responsibility is well known in the area, as faculty and students are highly active in meeting the needs of the region. It’s safe to say Appalachian State is not just a school – it’s a community and a state of mind.
Cost: $6,553 per year
Iowa State University
Iowa’s flagship university, Iowa State University is the nation’s first land-grant institution, a torch it has carried into the 21st century as one of the most significant research universities in the US. Rated at the highest level of productivity by the Carnegie Foundation, ISU has been at the center of some of the most important discoveries of the 20th century in energy, agriculture, and computing, including playing a key role in the Manhattan Project and the harnessing of nuclear power.
Students find their way to Iowa State for biological sciences and agriculture, a key component of the federal land grant, but Iowa State has also been recognized as having one of the best engineering schools. Iowa State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication is one of the highest-ranked and most renowned in the US as well. Iowa State students count on low tuition rates and a strong reputation to take them into their careers with pride.
Cost: $7,736 per year
University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma has been shaping Oklahoma’s culture from the earliest years of the Indian Territory, and Norman, OK’s flagship university represents the very best of Oklahoma. With a famously beautiful campus decorated in what has been called Cherokee Gothic (mixing Native American motifs with traditional college architecture), OU is a symbol of Oklahoma that attracts some of the finest students in the region.
OU offers a number of degrees students will not find anywhere else, such as their extensive Native American languages programs maintaining the traditions of Oklahoma’s large Native population; others, like petroleum engineering and aviation, bring a level of expertise that only a state like Oklahoma could provide. The University of Oklahoma’s tuition rate is kept low to make their degrees one of the best deals in the Midwest.
Cost: $7,695 per year
North Carolina State University
UNC Chapel Hill’s main rival in the University of North Carolina system, North Carolina State University is the state’s land, sea, and space-grant university, focusing on STEM education and practical applied sciences. With the largest student body in North or South Carolina and some of the most acclaimed faculty in the region, NCSU is a dominant force in the Research Triangle, a center of industry and academic research and development.
NCSU draws students from across the South, the US, and internationally to its world-class engineering programs, from nuclear energy to mechanical engineering. As a land-grant university, NC State is the leading agricultural institution, and their textile science program is a model for the field. For its quality, NCSU is extraordinarily affordable, being named a best value by Kiplinger’s and U.S. News & World Report.
Cost: $8,581 per year
University of Wisconsin - La Crosse
One of U.S. News & World Report’s top regional universities for the Midwest, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is one of the leading branches of the nationally-renowned UW system. UW La Crosse is known for its inclusivity and accessibility, ranked as one of the most LGBT-friendly campuses in the nation.
Originally a teacher’s college, UW La Crosse continues to excel in teacher education, but it has become best known for its health care programs such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and physician’s assistant. Recognized as best values by Kiplinger’s and the Princeton Review, UW La Crosse offers students solid, market-ready education and the opportunity to do great things.
Cost: $8,795 per year
Sonoma State University
Sonoma State University is a small, regional institution in California’s wine country, a region known for its beauty and weather. As part of the California State University system, Sonoma State has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top regional universities in the West; originally a teacher’s college, Sonoma State is now one of the most respected public liberal arts universities in the state.
For obvious reasons, Sonoma State’s wine business program is one of the school’s claims to fame, a nationally recognized course of study in all aspects of the wine business, from viticulture to management and marketing. Besides business, other notable programs at Sonoma State include criminal justice, psychology, and sociology. In addition to a close-knit campus culture and community, Sonoma State’s low tuition makes it one of the most attractive choices in California.
Cost: $7,324 per year
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
As the flagship of the State University of New York system, the University at Buffalo is the largest and most research-intensive public university in the Northeast. With the largest public engineering, business, and medical programs in the state, and the only public law school and pharmacy school, Buffalo is responsible for much of the professional education and training in New York, especially for students who cannot afford more expensive private universities.
SUNY Buffalo was one of the first institutions to offer a computer science major and a key to developing computing on the east coast, and computing and engineering remain important to Buffalo’s education. Professional programs excel, from nursing and social science to business and finance. Most importantly for many students, Buffalo is widely considered a best value for the region, with low tuition rates and quality at a level and even above the level of many of Buffalo’s elite neighbors.
Cost: $8,870 per year
University of Utah
The University of Utah is the state’s flagship, space-grant institution, a major research university that stands as one of the most respected and most productive schools of its kind in the west. UU has a great deal of significance in the state, as the home of the only medical school, as well as the state’s main law school, only architecture school, and most popular engineering school.
Some of the University of Utah’s strongest programs are in engineering; as one of the original ARPANET nodes, Utah’s computing program was a pioneer. Students interested in environmental science, sustainability, and alternative energy are also attracted to Utah. Utah is also home to one of the strongest biology departments in the US, and is a leader in genetics due to the Latter-Day Saints’ interest in genealogy. UU is greatly influenced by the LDS Church, but as a public university, many students are not affiliated with the church. No matter their faith, students find the University of Utah a proven value at a reasonable cost.
Cost: $8,239 per year
A small, public liberal arts university, SUNY Oneonta attracts students to rural Oneonta, in central New York, with a combination of academic quality, affordability, and lifestyle. Oneonta has been named as one of the most-loved campuses in America, a small Northeastern town that gives students a sense of safety and welcome that the term “college town” evokes.
As a U.S. News & World Report top 10 regional public institution, Oneonta backs up the love with educational excellence. Oneonta is home to the most acclaimed nutrition program in the nation, as well as extensive pre-professional programs. Oneonta is also known for its high level of community and civic involvement, one of the most service-oriented schools in the region, preparing students for rewarding, giving life after college. At a tuition rate that is a bargain for the Northeast, SUNY Oneonta has earned its best value status.
Cost: $7,520 per year
Part of the illustrious Claremont Colleges, a collective of 7 adjoining institutions in Claremont, CA, Pomona College is a small, private liberal arts institution. Ranked as a top 5 liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report, Pomona College is one of the most selective colleges in the nation, and one of the most elite. With a high rate of application, Pomona only accept the top 9% of applicants – but those who are accepted have been named some of the happiest students in America by the Princeton Review.
Students come to Pomona for their top-tier programs in economics, biological sciences (especially pre-med), mathematics, and computer science. Over half of Pomona’s students are minority or international students, making it an exceptionally diverse campus, and its financial aid plan is on par with the Ivy Leagues, ensuring that no student admitted has to actually pay their considerable tuition, making Pomona a value for those who make the grade.
Cost: $47,620 per year
University of Delaware
Delaware’s leading public research university is a land, sea, space, and urban-grant institution that has had profound influence over the industry and learning of the state. The University of Delaware actually pre-dates the American Revolution; if not for political blockage that kept it from being chartered as a college until the 19th century, it would have been one of the Colonial Colleges. UD is also notable as the first university to create a study-abroad program, one that is still especially popular among students.
The University of Delaware is known as an urban research university, and its strongest research and education programs reflect that status. UD’s most significant programs are in chemistry, with significant ties to the pharmaceutical industry; other areas of reputation include urban policy, engineering, education, and earth and ocean sciences. UD’s tuition makes it one of the best bargains in higher education for the north, and its reputation on the job market gives students faith that their hard work and money will be rewarded.
Cost: $12,342 per year
San Diego State University
Older than their neighbor, UC San Diego (#23), San Diego State University is part of the California State University system and a major urban research university in its own right. SDSU’s research faculty is the most productive in the nation for institutions of their size, and much of that research is directed toward life in San Diego and the Southern California region. Some of their strongest programs are in business, urban affairs, public health, and social work.
In addition to being one of the 10 most diverse universities in the nation, SDSU has much impact on the San Diego metro region, educating over 14% of San Diego’s workforce – more than half of SDSU graduates stay in the region. SDSU is a crucial force in social mobility for the people of Southern California, providing opportunity at a price almost anyone can benefit from. That keeps SDSU returning to best value rankings year after year.
Cost: $6,976 per year
St. Francis College
A small, urban commuter college in Brooklyn, NY, St. Francis College has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report and others as one of the best institutions of its kind. St. Francis College is a Catholic liberal arts college specializing in bachelor’s education, and as a Franciscan college, SFC emphasizes education for the purpose of social responsibility and ethical, religious life. As such, St. Francis College keeps their tuition at a lower level for a private New York college, with generous financial aid.
Because of their policies, St. Francis College has been recognized for its diversity, while its strongest programs are directed toward giving students access to professional life where they can do the most good for others: areas such as education, business, psychology, and the sciences are among SFC’s strengths. A celebrated faculty and a small faculty-to-student ratio gives students the support and preparation necessary for success in school and career.
Cost: $23,800 per year
Western Washington University
At the northwest corner of Washington, Western Washington University brings education to the absolute edge of the Lower 48. A mid-sized public institution, WWU began its life as a women’s teaching college, preparing educators for what was at the time the farthest frontier. Today, it is U.S. News & World Report’s top public master’s college in the Pacific Northwest, not to mention one of the best values in their class.
Once dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, the region around Western Washington University, like many such areas, is undergoing a major economic change, and WWU is doing its part to prepare the workers of the area for professional and technical careers. WWU’s strongest programs include industrial technology and business. Western Washington’s unique Philosophy, Politics, and Economics degree focuses on exactly what its name implies, and WWU was also home to the first college of environmental studies.
Cost: $8,964 per year
Salisbury University, a small public institution on the Maryland coast, has been recognized as Maryland’s best regional public university by U.S. News & World Report, and wins place in Kiplinger’s, Forbes, and many others as a best value. As part of the University System of Maryland, Salisbury’s role is to bring solid professional and technical education to the region, from business and social work to education and nursing.
As a former teacher’s college, Salisbury University is still one of the leading teacher’s education institutions in the region, with a state-of-the-art Teacher Education and Technology Center, but recent years have also seen major growth in Salisbury’s nursing program. Today Salisbury’s nurses have the highest rate of licensure passing for the state, making them one of the top nursing schools in Maryland. Solid programs and affordable tuition make Salisbury University a secure value.
Cost: $8,560 per year
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
The public university systems of New York and California (SUNY, CUNY, UC, and CSU) get the most attention, but for pure value perhaps no state-wide public system can compete with Wisconsin. All of Wisconsin’s public universities are recognized as best values, and all carry the stamp of quality that the University of Wisconsin name suggests. So it’s appropriate that the Top 50 Best Value Residential Colleges of 2017 should close out with UW-Eau Claire.
Regularly ranked in the top 10 and top 5 public regional universities for the Midwest, UW-Eau Claire is known throughout Wisconsin for their exceptional teacher’s education, nursing, and business degree programs. Eau Claire is also one of the most community-oriented schools in the region, with required service-learning for all students, and their undergraduate research initiatives are nationally respected. For a low tuition rate, students all over Wisconsin know the opportunity that a UW-Eau Claire degree can provide.
Cost: $8,744 per year