Best College Values for Under $20,000 a Year

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By Sandra Block

The cost of a public college education continues to rise, despite an improving economy. The University of Maryland recently announced a rare midyear tuition increase of about 2 percent. The governing board of the University of North Carolina system is considering hiking tuition 4 percent next year and 3.5 percent the following year for state residents. And University of California leaders say they’ll have to raise tuition 28 percent over the next five years unless the state gives the system more money.

That’s why it’s more important than ever for students and parents to cast a wide net in their college search. It may seem counterintuitive, but don’t be put off by high sticker prices, particularly at private colleges and universities with generous financial aid packages. Students with top grades and stellar test scores or other attributes attractive to colleges may be eligible for discounts of up to 70 percent off the published price. Here are 10 schools from Kiplinger’s 2015 combined list of public and private school of 300 best college values where the net price tag per student (tuition, fees, room and board, and books) after financial aid is $20,000 a year or less.

Gallery: Best College Values for Under $20,000 a Yearview fullscreen Best College Values for Under $20,000 a YearPhoto: Don Smetzer/AlamyPhoto: Denis Jr. TangneyPhoto: Natalia BratslavskyPhoto: Brian Church via Getty ImagesPhoto: Extraordinary Faith/FlickrPhoto: Andrew GunnersPhoto: John Crowe/AlamyPhoto: Rob Crandall/AlamyPhoto: Mira/AlamyPhoto: Mark Miller via Getty Images1. Berea College
Average net cost: $4,326.
Location: Berea, Kentucky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,623.
Total annual cost: $7,892.
Average need-based aid: $3,566.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 69.

Berea’s net price is lower than the price tag for many two-year public colleges. The liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists, provides every student with the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship; the school only accepts students with demonstrated financial need. All students work 10 to 15 hours a week, which they put toward books, food and other expenses.Best College Values for Under $20,000 a Year1. Berea College
Average net cost: $4,326.
Location: Berea, Kentucky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,623.
Total annual cost: $7,892.
Average need-based aid: $3,566.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 69.

Berea’s net price is lower than the price tag for many two-year public colleges. The liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists, provides every student with the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship; the school only accepts students with demonstrated financial need. All students work 10 to 15 hours a week, which they put toward books, food and other expenses.ShareFacebookTwitterGoogle+EmailPinterestShare: Share

Average net cost: $4,326.
Location: Berea, Kentucky.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,623.
Total annual cost: $7,892.
Average need-based aid: $3,566.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 69.

Berea’s net price is lower than the price tag for many two-year public colleges. The liberal arts college, founded by abolitionists, provides every student with the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship; the school only accepts students with demonstrated financial need. All students work 10 to 15 hours a week, which they put toward books, food and other expenses.
1. Berea College

Average net cost: $13,532.
Location: Provo, Utah.
Undergraduate enrollment: 27,765.
Total annual cost: $18,322.
Average need-based aid: $4,790.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 58.

BYU, which is led and supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is a good deal even before financial aid is factored in. The sticker price for non-Mormons is $18,322 (for Mormons, it’s $13,322). The average net price after need-based aid is $13,532 for non-Mormons. More than half the classes have fewer than 20 students.
2. Brigham Young University

Average net cost: $16,582.
Location: New Haven, Connecticut.
Undergraduate enrollment: 5,430.
Total annual cost: $60,850.
Average need-based aid: $44,268.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 2.

If you manage to get admitted — and only 7 of applicants do — Yale will make sure you can afford to attend. The average net price for Yale students is about $16,500 a year, thanks to the school’s generous financial aid program. Better yet, Yale’s financial aid package doesn’t include student loans, so students who borrow leave with only about $13,000, on average, in student debt, versus more than an average of $31,200 for borrowers at private, nonprofit institutions.
3. Yale University

Average net cost: $16,602.
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,785.
Total annual cost: $62,206.
Average need-based aid: $45,604.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 11.

A total of 60 of students who attend this elite liberal arts school receive need-based financial aid, in no-loan awards. Small classes (the average class size is 16), an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio, and access to more than 300 cultural events a year keep students intellectually engaged; 98 percent of freshmen return for sophomore year. Students who need a break from the books can ramble around Amherst’s 1,000-acre campus, which includes a 500-acre wildlife sanctuary.
4. Amherst College

Average net cost: $16,716.
Location: Santa Paula, California.
Undergraduate enrollment: 366.
Total annual cost: $32,500.
Average need-based aid: $15,784.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 52.

This Catholic college, which is surrounded by the Los Padres National Forest, has no departments, majors or textbooks; instead, students participate in discussion-style classes that focus on the Great Books. And 80 percent of students receive need-based financial aid, and the average grant covers 49 percent of the sticker price.
5. Thomas Aquinas College

Average net cost: $17,632,
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Undergraduate enrollment: 6,722,
Total annual cost: $59,607,
Average need-based aid: $41,975,
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 6.

The nation’s oldest institution of higher education is surprisingly affordable for the students who meet its high standards (only 6 percent of applicants are accepted). More than 60 percent of students receive need-based aid, in no-loan financial aid packages. And that definition of need is generous: Families with income well into the six figures are eligible. Harvard’s generosity keeps average debt at graduation to $12,560, among the lowest of the schools in our combined rankings.
6. Harvard University

Average net cost: $17,946.
Location: Claremont, California.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,612.
Total annual cost: $61,432.
Average need-based aid: $43,486.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 9

With lush grounds and a stunning view of the San Gabriel Mountains, Pomona boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. But students don’t linger to admire the scenery. And 93 percent graduate within four years (the highest rate of all 300 schools in our rankings), sparing students and families the cost of an extra year or more. Like several of our other best values, Pomona doesn’t include loans in its financial aid awards, which keeps the average debt among undergraduates who borrow to $13,441. The California sunshine is free.
7. Pomona College

Average net cost: $18,212.
Location: Lexington, Virginia.
Undergraduate enrollment: 1,855.
Total annual cost: $58,062.
Average need-based aid: $39,850.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 4.

Washington and Lee is a prime example of why you need to look beyond the sticker price when searching for best values. W&L’s average need-based grant of $39,850 cuts the school’s sticker price by nearly 70 percent. But even if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, you may get a break on the sticker price: Of the W&L students without demonstrated need, 13 percent receive merit aid, at an average award of about $35,000.
8. Washington and Lee University

Average net cost: $19,305.
Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts.
Undergraduate enrollment: 2,077.
Total annual cost: $61,870.
Average need-based aid: $42,565.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 14.

This liberal arts school, established in 1793, provides financial aid to 51 percent of students. Families with incomes of up to $230,400 are eligible for financial aid. Only 29 percent of students borrow, and the average debt upon graduation is $12,474. Williams’ three academic divisions — languages and the arts, social sciences, and science and math — offer 25 departments and 36 majors. The student-faculty ratio is seven to one, and about 39 percent of students graduate with dual majors.
9. Williams College

Average net cost: $19,428.
Location: Stanford, California.
Undergraduate enrollment: 7,061.
Total annual cost: $59,888.
Average need-based aid: $40,460.
Kiplinger’s combined rank: No. 20.

Only 6 percent of applicants get into this prestigious research university, which ties with Harvard for competitiveness. The Stanford community includes 21 Nobel laureates, making the five-to-one student-faculty ratio (the lowest on our list of under-$20,000 schools) even more valuable. Like Pomona, Stanford’s Golden State campus is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful in the U.S.
10. Stanford University

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