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Princeton Review’s 100 Best Value Colleges, 2011

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As the cost of college increases and federal funding for education dwindles, students and parents want to be aware of the best college deals available.

For the third consecutive year, the Princeton Review has teamed with USA Today to present a list of America’s 100 Best Value Colleges. Fifty public and fifty private colleges were included on the list in two separate categories.

Released on February 22, 2011, the Princeton Review’s Best 100 Value Colleges list for 2011 places the top ten public and top ten private schools in rank order while the remaining 40 in each category are left unranked and placed in alphabetical order.

Best Value Colleges Criteria

Schools were selected as “Best Value Colleges” for 2011 based on criteria covering academics, cost of attendance, and financial aid using data from the Princeton Review’s surveys of administrators and students at 650 colleges with strong academic programs. Most of the data analyzed came from surveys conducted between fall 2009 and fall 2010. All cost and financial aid data came from fall 2010 surveys.

USA Today explains that Princeton Review’s database only includes selective four-year schools, which is why community colleges, which offer the lowest tuition, are not on the list.

According to a separate USA Today article, fluctuations in the list over the past three years suggests that many colleges are struggling to stay affordable. At least 45 Best Value schools have eliminated or capped loans from student aid packages in recent years and federal stimulus money is about to dry up.

Paying for College is a Challenge

“While a college education is undeniably a valuable investment, paying for college is challenging for most parents. Among the 12,000 respondents to our 2010 ‘College Hopes & Worries Survey’ of college applicants and their parents, 86% told us financial aid would be ‘very necessary’ to foot the bill. For them and for all families seeking academically outstanding colleges that have been exceptional at meeting their students’ needs for financial aid, we’re pleased to have teamed up with USA Today to identify and recommend these 100 institutions as ‘Best Value’ colleges,” Robert Franek, Princeton Review Senior VP/Publishing, said in a press release issued by the company on February 22.

Top 10 Best Value Public Colleges for 2011

1. University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA

2. New College of Florida in Sarasota, FL

3. University of Florida in Gainesville, FL

4. State University of New York at Binghamton in Binghamton, NY

5. University of Georgia in Athens, GA

6. University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI

7. College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA

8. University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC

9. North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC

10. City University of New York – Hunter College in New York, NY

Top 10 Best Value Private Colleges for 2011

1. Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA

2. Duke University in Durham, NC

3. Princeton University in Princeton, NJ

4. California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA

5. Harvard College in Cambridge, MA

6. Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT

7. Williams College in Williamstown, MA

8. Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN

9. Wesleyan College in Macon, GA

10. Yale University in New Haven, CT

Just How Accurate is the Best Value Colleges List?

College ranking systems are always an issue of much debate, and the Best Value Colleges for 2011 is no exception. Lynn O’Shaugnessy of the College Solution blog at CBS Money Watch urges readers to realize that the Princeton Review’s list is not without flaw.

Just because these schools are determined to be a value, they won’t be affordable for all students. Many of the private colleges on the list only award need-based financial aid. Consequently, wealthier students will not get any sort of price cut for attending a school like Swarthmore, Williams, Yale or Harvard. Rich parents might not mind spending over $50,000 a year for their child’s tuition, room and board, but it’s hardly a bargain in the eyes of most people. Problems also exist with public “value” colleges. In-state tuition may be reasonable for residents of that state, but out-of-state students are usually charged exorbitant fees to attend the same school.

Speaking of college rankings— if you’re interested in learning more about any of the colleges mentioned above, be sure to check out the StateUniversity.com Top 2000 Ranked Universities for Highest Overall School Score.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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