Best Values in Public Colleges, 2012: The top-100 public colleges and universities on our list deliver a quality education at an affordable price.
Given these hard times in higher ed, the word value takes on special resonance. We’ve retooled our rankings to give more weight to criteria we consider crucial to academic value, including the percentage of students who return for sophomore year and the four-year graduation rate. Each category measures a college’s ability to keep students engaged and on track for graduation. On the cost side, we continue to reward colleges with low sticker prices and abundant financial aid. But now, as student debt grows worrisome, we give bonus points to colleges that keep borrowing low. Where does our new methodology take us? Back to where we started, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This stellar school tops our rankings for best values in public colleges and universities for the 11th consecutive time — and this year it takes top honors for out-of-state value as well. From the fat years of the late 1990s through the post-2008 recession, UNC-Chapel Hill has been a leader for academic excellence, low cost and generous financial aid — exactly the criteria by which we define value.