Carolina Once Again Tops Kiplinger's Rankings

If they retired awards such as this, it would be about time to start thinking about that. But you have to earn the top ranking in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine’s survey of the best values in public higher education, and Carolina has done it once again.

UNC has ranked first on the magazine’s list of schools that “deliver strong academics at affordable prices” since 1998 when Kiplinger’s began its analysis. The newest list appears in the February issue, which is scheduled to hit newsstands Tuesday. Kiplinger’s editors say their top 100 public campuses offer the nation’s best combination of academics and affordability.

The universities of Florida, Virginia and the College of William and Mary ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, followed by Binghamton University, the universities of Georgia, Washington, Maryland (College Park) and the State University of New York Geneseo. Other UNC System schools were N.C. State, 10th; Appalachian State, 22nd; UNC-Wilmington, 27th; UNC-Asheville, 44th; and N.C. School of the Arts, 61st.

The Kiplinger’s rankings story, “Best Values in Public Colleges,” detailed how some public universities are providing strong academics despite budget cuts. The story cited UNC as a leading example of a campus finding new ways to preserve quality while becoming more efficient.

The story mentioned the University’s hiring of Bain & Co., a global consulting firm that completed a report in July, to recommend ways for the campus to become more efficient.

Kiplinger’s said Carolina retained its top ranking “in part for its ability to attract and keep high-flying students. Three-fourths or more of its incoming freshmen scored higher than 600 on both the verbal and math portions of the SATs, and almost all – 96.5 percent – stay on after freshman year.”

The story described Carolina as “an academic superstar that competes with the Ivies” and had held fast to its commitment to providing students with both need- and merit-based financial aid.

“Besides boasting top students, an outstanding faculty and a historic campus, Chapel Hill enjoys one big advantage over many other public schools: strong state support for financial aid,” Kiplinger’s reported.

Last fall, Carolina enrolled 3,960 first-year students drawn from a record 23,047 applications – a 21 percent increase over the past five years. Nearly 80 percent of first-year students were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes; almost 44 percent were among the top 10 students in their graduating classes. The average SAT score was 1303. Nineteen percent of the first-year class represented the first in their families to attend college.

Carolina meets the full need of undergraduate students who apply on time and qualify for need-based aid, with financial aid packages made up of two-thirds grants and scholarships and one-third loans and work-study. Qualified low-income undergraduates who enter as Carolina Covenant Scholars can graduate debt-free through aid packages of grants and work study, but not loans.

About two-thirds of the Kiplinger’s ranking is based on measures of academic quality including SAT or ACT scores, admission and retention rates, student-faculty ratios, and four- and six-year graduation rates. Then Kiplinger’s ranks each school based on cost and financial aid. Factors include total cost for in-state students (tuition, required fees, room and board, and estimated book expenses); the average cost for a student with need after subtracting non-need-based grants; the average percentage of need met by aid; and the average debt a student accumulates before graduation.

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