TOURING THE TOP 10 TEN BEST ALL OFFER STUDENTS SOMETHING SPECIAL--FROM INDEPENDENCE AT NEW COLLEGE TO GREAT FINANCIAL AID AT RICE.
(MONEY Magazine) – Seven of money's 10 best college values are public schools, up from six a year ago. This is great news for students who live in the same states as these schools, because their families will pay bargain in-state rates that are even lower than the fees for out-of-state students on which our rankings are based. But each college in our top 10 offers extraordinary value for everyone. Each provides an excellent education at a much lower price than schools of similar quality do. (For an explanation of how we rank colleges, see page 23.)
No matter what your son or daughter wants in a college, one of our top 10 can probably deliver it. You and your child simply have to decide what really matters in your search. Do you want a small liberal arts college or a large state university? A highly structured core curriculum or academic independence? A specialized education or the broad-spectrum learning available at schools like top-ranked New College of the University of South Florida? Whether your goals are already clearly in mind or you are looking for ideas about what kind of a college might be best, this look at MONEY's top 10 can help guide you to the right choice.
TOP TEN 1
NEW COLLEGE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA If you could afford New College in 1994-95, you still can. Tuition and fees have risen by all of $7 to $7,950 for entering out-of-state freshmen; Floridians pay just $2,066. (Room and board cost $3,847.) That's one reason New College, the small liberal arts jewel of the University of South Florida system, repeats as our No. 1 college value for the third straight year.
The good news is that New College has plenty of room for non-Floridians. Out-of-staters make up nearly half of the student body of roughly 560. The trick is getting into the extraordinarily selective school. The 1995-96 entering class of 143 has average Scholastic Assessment Test scores of 1,256 (the average for the schools in Money's survey is 968); 95% scored 24 or above on the ACT (vs. the national average of 41% among the schools MONEY surveyed).
Moreover, brains aren't enough at New College. Students who aren't self-starters may be very unhappy there. That's because every semester, students must draw up academic contracts describing the courses, reading and research they'll take on--and they are expected to fulfill that obligation with minimal prodding from faculty. "They encourage the students to figure out what they want to get out of class," says Kelcey Burns, 19, a psychology major.
The freedom is nearly total. There are no mandatory core courses. Instead of grades, students receive detailed written evaluations of their work from professors. Three annual independent-study projects are required during the January inter term, but the topics are left almost entirely to the students' imaginations. The 12-to-1 student/faculty ratio (vs. our survey average of 14 to 1) means that a student can spend lots of time with a professor alone or in small groups (many classes have fewer than 10 students). Again, the students must actively take advantage of this opportunity; they can't expect the professors at New College to come to them, even though most are willing mentors.
Probably because many students lack the required self- motivation, New College's six-year graduation rate is unimpressive for a top-rated school--60%, only slightly higher than our survey's 55% average. Roughly 27% of those who do graduate, though, go on to earn Ph.D.s.
The lovely 140-acre bayside campus, with buildings designed by I.M. Pei, would get unanimous raves--if it weren't in Sarasota. Many students are shocked by the area's heat and humidity (summer average highs: 90 degrees F and 63%, respectively). Others fret that when they journey to Sarasota proper, there's no there there. "It's not geared to the young," says Christine Gramer, a 20-year-old chemistry major. "Downtown closes before the sun goes down." There are compensations, however. Students can easily reach Sarasota's exquisite public beaches by bike, bus or car. Favorite aquatic pastimes: canoeing and watching the dolphins and manatees frolic in early evening.
TOP TEN 2
RICE UNIVERSITY Rice is rich in many senses of the word. Its $1.3 billion endowment, for example, is the tenth highest among the nation's colleges. Although Rice is no longer free, as it was for its first 52 years beginning in 1912, it continues to charge much lower tuition than the Ivy League schools to which it is justly compared.
In 1995-96, though, after jumping 9.4% in 1993 and 11.7% in '94, tuition at Rice leaped 11.6%, almost twice the survey average of 6.5%, to $12,025 (room and board are $5,900). That may not strike you as cheap. But the number is better than it looks, partly because 84% of Rice students receive financial aid averaging a little more than half their costs (vs. 69% of the students who receive that much at a typical four-year college). Furthermore, Rice has promised that future tuition hikes for entering freshmen will not exceed annual consumer price index increases through the end of the century.
Rice is particularly strong in engineering and the sciences. Every faculty member has earned the highest possible degree in his or her field, vs. the MONEY survey average of 80% at schools nationally. The 9-to-1 student/faculty ratio means that few classes have more than 30 people.
By any academic measure, Rice students are formidable. More than 80% come from the top 5% of their high school classes. A remarkable 112 out of 700 entering freshmen in 1995 were first in their classes; 40% were National Merit Scholars. To help students cope with their new environment, "Freshmen get a lot of attention," says Rebecca Lewis, a 19-year-old biology major. An organized tutoring program is free, with upperclassmen and teaching assistants meeting with students as often as necessary. Still, some of these high achievers end up complaining that Rice, where A's are tough to come by, has a lower percentage of honors graduates than comparable schools.
Although Rice University is located only three miles from Houston's bustling downtown area, the tranquil 300-acre campus looks idyllic, with Mediterranean-style buildings surrounded by splendid foliage. Unfortunately, during some parts of the year, no trees can provide sufficient shade. The word intolerable is often used to describe Houston's hot, humid climate, which serves up average summer highs of 92 degrees F with 59% humidity.
TOP TEN 3
NORTHEAST MISSOURI STATE Ten years ago, Northeast Missouri State changed its mission. Once a small teachers college, it hired better faculty, broadened its curriculum and became the leading liberal arts institution in Missouri. The transformation was so successful that NMSU's name became an albatross. The university wasn't regional (29% of its student body are non- Missourians), and it certainly wasn't some backwater ag school (its 1,500 freshmen have high school GPAs of 3.5, far above the MONEY survey's 2.9 average). So, as of next July, NMSU will officially change its name to Truman State University, in honor of the only Missouri native to serve as President of the United States.
By any name, Northeast/Truman might be the right place for your educational buck to stop. The school is a terrific bargain, with the cheapest out-of-state tuition and fees ($5,152) in our top 10, even after a 5.7% increase in 1994-95. Residents pay just $2,872. (Room and board cost $3,624.) And the word has got out about the school. There are now four applicants for every available spot.
Northeast/Truman prides itself on the close contact between professors and students. "The faculty is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Scott Sifton, a 21-year-old political science major. "Teachers are receptive, responsive and know you by name," adds Liz Pauzauskie, a 22-year-old German major.
Philosophically, the school believes in what it calls experiential learning, often in the form of group projects. In economics classes, for example, designated buyers and sellers interact in mock marketplaces. Another group conducted a market research project for the Kirksville Chamber of Commerce, asking town residents what products and services they wanted from the local businesses.
The school has flaws. Although 40% of its graduates go on to earn advanced degrees (a first-rate showing), only 59% of entering freshmen graduate within six years. Then there's the rural location in Kirksville, 170 miles northwest of St. Louis. The town has no mall and only one movie theater. But students praise the 190 school-sponsored special-interest groups on campus, such as Amnesty International, the Coalition of African-American Women and OSCAR, the Organization of Students Concerned About Resources. And they are pleased with the campus recreational events that include movies, music, poetry readings and occasional visits from nationally known performers like singer Matthew Sweet and the pop rock duo They Might Be Giants.
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TRENTON STATE COLLEGE TSC's selectivity surprises people who don't know the New Jersey school well. About 92% of freshmen come from the top 20% of their high school classes, on a par with New York City's Columbia University, and have average 1994 SAT scores of 1,124, only four points less than the average at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill. And TSC freshmen receive an excellent education for bargain rates. In 1995-96, tuition rose only 5.9% for out-of-staters (8% of the student body) to $6,658. Residents pay just $4,240. Room and board cost $5,650.
Professors, not graduate students, teach all courses for TSC's 5,205 undergraduates. The curriculum is progressive. Community service, for example, is now a graduation requirement. And since the 1993-1994 revamping of the core curriculum, so is at least one course addressing non-Western, Native American or Third World culture. To help with course work or research, all students are encouraged to use computers to connect to the network of information resources known as the Internet; the school pays the cyberspace bills.
Students like the education they receive--95% of the freshmen return as sophomores--but gripe that Trenton State College can seem like a suitcase school. Nearly 40% of students live off campus, about one-quarter of them with their parents. "I'd like to see more social events," says Christel Wiener, a 20-year-old English education major. "The fraternities and sororities are 10 minutes away by car. Parties on campus are only among friends."
Other organized outlets exist, however. Students may participate in 140 special-interest activities, from the Signal, the weekly student newspaper, to a biology honors society. Or they can play any of 21 varsity sports. Indeed, Trenton State's athletic program has been a juggernaut since 1979, winning 27 national championships in six sports and finishing second 23 times in eight sports.
TOP TEN 5
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY It may be hard to believe, but Caltech actually about to make academic life tougher on its new arrivals. This year, freshmen, who have operated under a pass/fail system since 1965, will begin receiving grades in the third quarter.
The workload, which includes a larger than average core curriculum, is enormous. To give students a fighting chance, Caltech keeps many lab, computer and library facilities open around the clock. "The work causes a lot of stress," says 19-year-old Shay Chinn, a biology and environmental engineering major. "It puts a great damper on your social life."
But no one goes to Caltech to socialize. And all in all, most appreciate what they get here, which explains why 96% of freshmen return as sophomores. If your goal is to win a Nobel Prize, this may be the place. To date, 21 Caltech graduates and professors have become Nobel laureates.
Although the university's $17,586 price tag, up 4% in 1995-96, is the steepest in our top 10, what students receive in return is astonishing. Caltech spends $39,842 per undergraduate for instruction, by far the highest in the nation. Its 3-to-1 student/faculty ratio also tops our survey and means students can get as much one-on-one attention as they want, including assistance with research projects.
Originally founded as a vocational school, Caltech has gone far beyond woodworking. Its astronomy, seismology and engineering departments are renowned worldwide. The university developed and still runs the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which helped launch the space age. Caltech professors consistently attract huge research grants, including almost $123 million in federal dollars in the past year.
But only the brilliant need apply. Average SAT scores for the 218 entering freshmen in 1995 were 1,406, tops in our survey. A full 99% were in the top 5% of their high school class. About 80% of Caltech graduates go on to earn advanced degrees.
TOP TEN 6
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA--CHAPEL HILL
The oldest state university in the U.S., UNC--Chapel Hill (chartered in 1789) is also one of the best--and most beautiful. Georgian, Greek revival and Italianate buildings sit under enormous oak trees. Elegant red-brick sidewalks crisscross the campus. Few UNC--Chapel Hill students can imagine having a better college experience elsewhere. "The atmosphere here is both laid back and challenging, the best of both worlds," says Thad Woody, a 21-year-old majoring in political science and communication studies.
Admission is highly competitive, with the board of governors limiting out-of-state students to 18% of the freshman class. More than 79% of 1995's approximately 3,300 entering freshmen were in the top 10% of their high school classes. Since 1980, 10 UNC--Chapel Hill undergrads have been named Rhodes scholars. An outstanding 85% of entering freshmen graduate within six years, the second best rate of all public universities (behind only the University of Virginia).
A 20% jump pushed out-of-state tuition for 1995-96 to $10,162. (Tarheels pay just $2,043; room and board are $5,350.) For this outlay, which is below the out-of-state average at public colleges, students are exposed to an outstanding faculty, more than 90% of whom hold their field's highest degree. And the faculty is becoming much more diverse. Today, more African Americans occupy endowed chairs at Chapel Hill than at any other U.S. university. Among the nationally ranked graduate school departments are history, nursing, psychology, public administration and sociology.
UNC--Chapel Hill recently became one of the few universities that enable students to interview with prospective employers via a video teleconferencing system called VIEWnet; 30 companies currently participate. Moreover, Chapel Hill uses its computer network to provide students with information on internships and career fairs, along with tips on job hunting, resume writing and job interview techniques.
TOP TEN 7
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT BINGHAMTON A 26.8% tuition rise in 1995 for nonresidents to $8,679 (vs. $3,779 for New Yorkers), plus $4,654 for room and board, was painful, but SUNY at Binghamton remains a great deal, especially for students who are seeking a strong liberal arts education.
The most competitive state school in New York, Binghamton attracts high achievers. Freshman SAT scores average 1,153, and fully 90% of entering students in 1994 were in the top fifth of their high school classes, vs. our survey's 44% average. Those who come tend to stay. The school's six-year graduation rate is an exceptionally high 80%.
In recent years, Binghamton has earned a reputation for academic innovation. For example, under the Languages Across the Curriculum program, students taking courses in business management and accounting can study textbooks in nine different languages. The goal: to be ready for the increasingly global economy. There is recreational innovation too. One of the most popular campus sports is "co-rec" football, a six-against-six touch-football contest (three men and three women on each team) with one inviolate rule: Only women can play quarterback.
Even though Binghamton has the highest student/faculty ratio in the top 10 (19 to 1), 79% of all classes have fewer than 30 students. Only 3% have 100 or more. And in 1995-96, Binghamton is addressing one of its weaknesses--limited one-on-one contact between freshmen and faculty. Teachers and staff will serve as mentors to members of the freshman class, discussing course selection, careers, living conditions, romance and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (and how it sometimes applies to roommates).
Of the undergrads attracted to the 600-acre campus on a wooded hillside near the Susquehanna River, 200 miles northwest of New York City, only 7% aren't residents of the state. The bloc from New York, though, is extremely diverse, with minorities accounting for 22% of all 9,300 undergrads.
TOP TEN 8
SPELMAN COLLEGE Two sins are regarded as unpardonable at Spelman: drinking (no alcohol is allowed on campus) and keeping quiet in class. Everyone is encouraged to stand up for herself and state her opinions strongly.
Indeed, Spelman has a unique spirit. One of two historically black women's colleges in the U.S., the Atlanta private school celebrates sisterhood and achievement. Most teachers (61%) are women, and 99.9% of Spelman students are African Americans.
Almost half of 1994's students were in the top 10% of their high school classes (average GPA: 3.4; average SAT score: 1,007). Current tuition and fees are a below-average $8,875, plus $5,890 for room and board. Fully 76% of students receive gift aid, with the average $2,671.
Few are disappointed here. "I needed a setting that would validate my womanness and my blackness, and that's exactly what I found," says Tikenya Foster, a 20-year-old English major. Such feelings help explain why 91% of freshmen return to Spelman, vs. the 76% average of colleges in MONEY's survey.
On paper, two statistics might bother prospective applicants. Spelman has a 15-to-1 student/faculty ratio, marginally higher than the national average of 14 to 1. And it offers only 23 majors, although this is less of a problem than it may seem. That's because Spelman students may design their own majors and can also take courses at 14 other schools in the Atlanta area, including Morehouse College and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The arrangement is reciprocal, which explains why Spelman's classes occasionally include male students.
President Johnnetta B. Cole seems to embody Spelman's culture. Affectionately known as Sister Prez, she'll sometimes surprise students by hugging them to let them know that they're appreciated and noticed.
TOP TEN 9
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA/CHAMPAIGN Nathan Hood, a 21-year-old engineering major, chose Illinois over Northwestern because of the money--$3,958 tuition for state residents, only 23% of Northwestern's price. And he's thrilled. "There are tremendous research opportunities here," he says. Hood almost didn't enroll, however, finding it hard to believe that one of the nation's top engineering departments was just an hour and a half from his Springfield, Ill. home.
Illinois can be an undeniable bargain, even for non residents--8% of undergraduates. Their tuition and fees are only $9,130, up 7.6% in 1995-96. In addition, students pay $4,408 for room and board.
The school, which sits on 1,300 acres 140 miles south of Chicago, is highly competitive. Of 1994-95's entering freshmen, 85% were in the top quarter of their high school classes, compared with our survey average of 48%. But high- achieving recluses should look elsewhere. Not only is the campus overrun by 26,000 undergraduates, but it's also an extremely social and active place. Illinois has more fraternity and sorority members than any school in the nation, 5,647, or almost 22% of the student body. The university also boasts one of the country's largest intramural sports programs, with 40% of students participating.
Illinois' accounting, advertising and chemistry departments, as well as engineering, are top ranked nationally. And with 13.1 million titles, including microfilm and periodicals, the university library is the third largest academic library in the nation, behind Harvard and Yale.
But huge schools almost inevitably breed big classes. The average freshman class has 49 students at Illinois; class size for courses aimed at sophomores, juniors and seniors drops to 33.
Determined to give freshmen more contact with senior faculty, the school launched the Freshman Discovery Program in 1994-95. It now has 3,000 spots available on a first come, first served basis for roughly 6,000 entering freshmen. In the program, senior faculty members instruct classes of no more than 20 students on subjects ranging from "Artists and Computers" to "Stock Market Investment" and "Introduction to the Law."
TOP TEN 10
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT ALBANY Despite a brutal 29.4% tuition rise to $8,856 (New York residents pay $3,956), plus $4,836 for room and board, SUNY at Albany actually managed to gain in our rankings, moving into the top 10 from No. 20 last year. One key reason: Albany's rate of students who graduate within six years jumped substantially, to 73%, which is far above the 55% average for schools in MONEY's study. (Almost 50% of graduates go on to earn advanced degrees, vs. our survey's 23% average.) One reason for the jump has been the school's Outcomes Assessment program. Through surveys of students and alumni, the school has learned how to "identify people who need academic help early on," says Joel Blumenthal, associate vice president for university relations. "The early-warning system has been a big success."
The school also showed concern for students by creating part-time positions called residential network coordinators. Their mission: to help all students learn how to use the Internet (access is free for students).
SUNY at Albany is not overwhelmingly large for a state university (11,346 undergraduates). The main campus sits on what was once a public golf course. Designed by eminent architect Edward Durell Stone and opened in 1967, the campus was a pet project of Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. The stark, futuristic design gets decidedly mixed reviews from students. All agree, however, that the buildings create diabolical bursts of wind that accentuate Albany's wicked winters (the average low is 14degreesF in February). The solution: Everyone uses the extensive underground tunnel system, which provides access to all parts of the campus; even runners like to jog there.
Strong departments include atmospheric sciences, criminal justice and physics. For example, the Center for Advanced Technology, partly funded by the Sematech consortium of semiconductor manufacturers, works with private industry and the government to create the computer chips of the future. The public administration and political science departments have also gained national recognition. Many students take advantage of being in the state capital, working as interns in the nearby New York State Assembly.
It may be a well-kept secret, but Albany is a terrific college town. "Both the campus and the city are very lively on weekends," says Tom McHale, a 21-year-old senior who is majoring in criminal justice and economics. Buses from SUNY at Albany shuttle the students between the campus and downtown, where renowned jazz clubs and bars abound. And for those seeking an escape from urban life, the Berkshire hills and the Adirondack and Catskill mountains are all nearby.