(MONEY Magazine) – The cost of college has long been a major concern of American parents, but never more so than today. The average bill for a year at a state school was $5,248 in the 1990-91 academic year; the private school average hit $13,318; and this year, the most expensive private school tops $23,000 for tuition, fees, room and board. Contemplating an $80,000 diploma, many parents may well wonder, Can we pay less and still get a quality education? And if we do scrape the money together for a high-priced elite school, can we be sure the sacrifice will be worth every penny? You'll find answers to those question in MONEY's Value Rankings, displayed at right and on the next page, of 100 schools at all price levels that more than justify their cost. The schools were chosen from the 1,011 accredited four-year colleges -- that welcome students of all creeds -- listed in the tables that start on page 67. Our top 100 schools are a remarkably varied lot. They include 56 private and 44 public institutions. Some are academic powerhouses like Princeton, Stanford, the University of Chicago and Yale, which are easily worth the annual $16,000-plus required of those gifted enough to get in. Others are solid state schools like Trenton State College and Texas A&M, both of which charge less than $5,000 for out-of-state students. You can find schools that impose structured course requirements, like Hendrix College, or ones where students plot their own courses of study, like the New College of the University of South Florida. There are science centers like Caltech and MIT, humanities havens like Barnard and Pomona, and megacampuses that offer something for everyone, like the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There have been some changes in the list from last year, resulting mainly from the sharp tuition increases that hit many state schools. A year ago, the State University of New York system dominated our top 10. (For profiles of this year's standouts, see page 56.) But tuition hikes at SUNY Albany (28%) and SUNY Geneseo (23%) knocked those two schools down several notches in our rankings to 11 and 28, respectively. Likewise, a 29% hike at the University of Florida swamped the Gators. Some schools, including Harvard, dropped off our top 100 altogether because their administrators declined to disclose data we needed to perform our calculations. Others disappeared because we could not verify the data they supplied. Our value rankings are only one criterion to consider as you search for a school. No single formula can tell you which college will be right for your $ child; elsewhere in this issue we provide advice on all the steps you must take to find appropriate schools.

HOW WE RANK SCHOOLS In the top 100 our aim is not to designate the best schools in America, because we believe that no one school can be considered best for all students. Instead, we explore the relationship between price and quality -- what a school charges and what it delivers -- and how that relationship varies from one institution to another. Establishing the price side of the equation is fairly simple. We use the schools' full stated charges for tuition and mandatory fees. To compensate for the fact that state schools receive taxpayer subsidies, we use nonresident tuitions for public schools, even though most students attending them pay the much lower resident charges. We believe it's fair to compare public and private schools, despite the different ways they are funded, because we are looking at them from the perspective of the people who are paying the bills. We ignore financial aid in the calculation of the top 100 because it varies so greatly from student to student. Measuring educational quality is trickier. After discussions with dozens of higher education consultants, deans of admissions, directors of college institutional research, and state and federal experts, we decided to base our rankings on the 12 factors outlined below. To assess them, we collected 28 different sets of statistics from the data base of Peterson's Guides, publisher of numerous college directories, and various other sources, including the National Research Council, Standard & Poor's, John Minter Associates of Boulder, and the schools. -- Student/faculty ratio. We took the school's stated undergraduate student/ faculty ratio and checked it against our own estimate, which was based on the number of full- and part-time faculty reported to Peterson's as teaching undergrads in the fall of 1990. For ranking purposes, we did a separate comparison of institutions that have graduate schools because some research university professors teach both graduate students and undergrads. -- Faculty strength. We counted both the number of full-time faculty and the number of those with Ph.D.s (or the equivalent) who are available to teach undergraduates. -- Library resources. We added up all reference materials and divided that number by the total of all students -- graduate and undergraduate. -- Instructional and student service expenditures. Most schools file annual reports with the federal government stating how much they spend for teaching and student services. Since the figures include some research spending, we did two separate comparisons, one of big research universities and the other of smaller colleges. -- Entrance exam results. As one gauge of the student body, we used the percentages of entering freshmen who scored 500 or better on the verbal SAT and also of those who scored 600 or better (or 21 and 26 on the ACT). -- Class rank. As another measure of student abilities, we used the percentage of freshmen who were in the top half, the top quarter and the top tenth of their high school classes. -- Acceptance rate. This is the number of students who were accepted for the fall of 1990 divided by the number who applied for admission. The rate generally reflects the school's reputation and its ability to choose highly qualified applicants. -- Freshman retention rate. Educators consider the percentage of freshmen who return for a second year to be an indicator of student satisfaction. -- Graduation rate. This is the percentage of students who entered as freshmen and received degrees within four or five years. -- Percentage of graduates who go on to earn graduate or professional degrees. This figure provides another clue to the quality of undergraduate instruction -- by indicating how well the school prepares its students for more difficult academic work. -- Percentage of graduates who earn doctorate degrees. Our data identified the undergraduate colleges attended by graduate students who earned doctorates in the 1980s. -- Business success. For a different indication of how well schools educate students, we looked at alma maters of the 70,000 top corporate executives who are listed in Standard & Poor's Executive/College Survey. Using a statistical model, we then compared each school's tuition with our measures of educational strength, discarding institutions scoring below average on most indicators. The colleges that ranked in our top 100 proved to have the lowest tuitions relative to their quality scores.

HOW TO READ THE TABLES In the tables that begin on page 67, we included some -- but not all -- of the statistics from the study that produced our top 100. Here is a description of each statistic listed after the names of the schools in the tables: -- Tuition and fees. Provided by each college for the 1991-92 academic year; nonresident tuition is given for public schools. Some schools, indicated with a footnote, had not set their tuitions by press time. (Tuition figures cited elsewhere in this Guide do not include fees.) -- Room and board. These charges may vary; the number listed is either the typical charge or, where indicated, the minimum. -- Percent of need met. Actual need among students who qualify for financial aid varies with the price of the school and the amount a student's family is judged able to pay. This figure tells you how much of last year's eligible students' need was met with grants, loans and work/study jobs. -- Average grant per student with need. This counts only money given by the school itself, not funds from the government or other sources. -- Student/faculty ratio. This is the figure the college provided to Peterson's, for undergraduates only. -- Percent who graduate in five years. The average percentage of incoming freshmen in 1984, 1985 and 1986 who had received bachelor's degrees by the spring semester of 1990. -- Percent with high test scores. The portion of the 1990 freshman class that scored 500 and above on the verbal SAT or 21 and above on the ACT. Two versions of the ACT were given last year. Schools that reported scores from the new version are indicated with a footnote. -- Percent from top half of class. The portion of the 1990 freshman class that ranked in the top half of their high school graduating class. Finally, we included phone numbers for each college admissions office -- or the school's main phone number -- so that you can get more information from colleges and universities that interest you.