UNC No. 1 Again as Best Value Among U.S. Public Universities

For a fifth straight year, Carolina ranks first among the best values at the top 100 U.S. public university campuses, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

The magazine’s February issue, available on newsstands today, examined data from 500 public four-year colleges and universities to identify the top 100 schools offering what the magazine called “the best combination of top-flight academics and affordable costs.”

Kiplinger’s listed the University of Florida second, University of Virginia third, College of William and Mary fourth and New College of Florida fifth. Rounding out the top 10, respectively, were the University of Georgia, State University of New York at Geneseo, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Binghamton University and the University of Washington. Other UNC System schools were N.C. State, 28th; UNC-Wilmington, 32nd; Appalachian State, 33rd; and UNC-Asheville, 50th.

“Low tuition is not the best indicator of affordability and accessibility, nor does it signal the value of excellence and quality,” said UNC Chancellor James Moeser. “Our robust financial aid program, coupled with the overall excellence of a Carolina education, is what we believe makes the University the top value in the nation.”

The magazine’s article, “Best Values in Public Colleges,” said UNC emerged as the magazine’s top campus after an analysis that first stressed academic quality, including the percentage of the 2004-05 freshman class scoring 600 or higher on the verbal and math components of the SAT, admission rates, freshman retention rates, student-faculty ratios and four- and six-year graduation rates.

Then the magazine ranked each school based on cost and financial aid. The formula included analysis of the total cost for in-state students, the average cost for a student with need after subtracting grants (but not loans), average cost for a student without need after eliminating non-need-based grants, average percentage of need met by need-based financial aid and the average debt a student accumulates before graduation.

Out-of-state rankings considered total and average costs after accounting for aid. Kiplinger’s staff first combed through data compiled by Thomson Peterson’s, a firm that collects college information, and supplemented that with original reporting.

Kiplinger’s story mentioned UNC’s academic quality, admissions process, the Carolina Covenant program and financial aid, and private fund raising through the Carolina First campaign.

UNC’s own measures of excellence, developed with the UNC Board of Trustees, emphasize indicators that the University provides an outstanding, intellectually challenging liberal arts education for undergraduates. The University has invested its resources based on these key priorities such as class size. In 2004, 54 percent of UNC’s course sections enrolled fewer than 20 students.

The University’s student retention and graduation rates are among the nation’s best, and it ranks among the public research universities recording the highest rate of undergraduates studying abroad. UNC students also have been successful in competing for top national and international scholarships and fellowships. Senior Kate Harris recently became UNC’s 39th Rhodes Scholar. UNC also offers two of the nation’s most distinguished undergraduate scholarships, the Morehead and the Robertson.

Kiplinger’s called UNC’s student costs “well below average.” In-state undergraduate students pay about $4,600 in tuition and required fees. Typical room, board and book charges take the total cost to about $12,000. The magazine included comments by Moeser about the role of state legislators’ support for need-based aid in the University’s success and the importance of revenue generated for student aid by the nation’s No. 1 trademark-licensing program.

Kiplinger’s report detailed the Carolina Covenant, a first for a major U.S. public university when it was announced by the University in 2003. Covenant students can graduate without debt by working on campus 10 to 12 hours a week in a federal work-study job, and UNC meets the remaining needs through federal, state, University and other privately funded grants and scholarships.

Beginning in fall 2005, students and their families had to be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 150 percent. That raised the threshold to cover a family of four with an annual income of about $37,000 or a single parent with a child who makes about $24,000. In the program’s first year, those income levels were at about $28,000 and $18,000, respectively.

This year, UNC enrolled its second class of 346 Carolina Covenant Scholars, who represent nearly 10 percent of the total first-year class. The program’s first class posted less than a 2 percent attrition rate.

The story featured photographs of sophomore Nayeli Lozada of Siler City, who is benefiting from the Carolina Covenant. “People shouldn’t be discouraged by the cost,” Lozada told Kiplinger’s. “The help is there.”

UNC has started a faculty mentoring program for Covenant scholars that was cited by Lozada in her comments to Kiplinger’s. She said the program helped her “smooth out the transition and make the right choices.”

Freshman Christian Mibelli of Weddington credited a $7,500 merit scholarship offer as a major factor in his decision to choose Chapel Hill over Duke, Wake Forest and Davidson. “Being at a school where everyone worked extremely hard to get in and wants to be here is an amazing experience,” he said in the article.

UNC has been listed at the top of Kiplinger’s periodic ranking of top values each of the five times the survey has been conducted since 1998. This year, UNC’s financial aid policies drew particular praise. “It’s the only school in our survey that meets 100 percent of each student’s financial need,” the magazine said. “It’s more common for colleges to meet 80 percent of the need or less. Since our last survey in 2003, UNC has actually beefed up its financial aid. In fact, average debt per student at graduation has declined since our first comprehensive survey in 1998 ($11,519 versus $12,478 in 1998).” Less than a quarter of UNC’s graduating students accumulated debt.

The magazine also mentioned Carolina’s decision to devote all proceeds from the sale of trademark-licensed UNC products to scholarships and financial aid. Previously, 75 percent of these funds were dedicated to need-based aid. Now, through trustee action, the rest of these funds are going to new merit-based scholarships. That created 59 merit-based scholarships, and 53 of those were awarded to North Carolinians in 2005.

“That has helped Chapel Hill attract one of the highest-caliber student bodies of any public college,” Kiplinger’s reported. “Among students in the freshman class of 2004-05, 78 percent scored 600 or higher on the math component of the SAT exam, and 73 percent scored 600 or above on the verbal section. About 25 percent of students scored 700 or higher on the verbal or math exams.”

UNC consistently ranks among the national leaders in making education financially accessible to students. Carolina also meets the full need of middle-income students, with financial aid packages comprised of two-thirds grants and scholarships and one-third loans and work-study. (Most aid packages are closer to two-thirds loans and one-third grants.)

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