Carolina Tops Best-Value Rankings for 11th Year

UNC ranks as the No. 1 value in American public higher education because it offers students high-quality academics at an affordable price, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

For the 11th time in a row, Carolina ranks first on the Kiplinger’s list of the 100 universities and colleges that provide the best value to in-state students. The magazine also lists Carolina No. 1 for the value offered to out-of-state students.

Kiplinger’s periodically has ranked the best public campus values since 1998; Carolina has been first every time. The new ranking appears in the February issue and was posted along with a related story at

Kiplinger’s takes a hard look at what we care most about at Carolina: providing a great education to a diverse student body at an affordable price,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86. “We established for the country the idea of higher education as a public good. So we are doubly proud to be recognized as one of America’s most accessible and high-quality public universities.”

The universities of Florida and Virginia and the College of William and Mary rank second, third and fourth, followed by New College of Florida, and the universities of Georgia, California-Berkeley, Maryland-College Park, California-Los Angeles and California-San Diego. Other UNC system campuses on the list are UNC-Wilmington, 15th; N.C. State, 19th; Appalachian State, 33rd; UNC School of the Arts, 41st; and UNC-Asheville, 45th.

Kiplinger’s changed its methodology this year to more strongly emphasize value because of the economic challenges facing higher education. For academics, the formula considered the percentage of students returning as sophomores and the four-year graduation rate. The magazine favored campuses with low sticker prices and abundant financial aid, with bonus points for schools that keep student borrowing low.

Kiplinger’s calculated value for cost and financial aid (lower prices, generous need-based aid and percentage of need met) and student indebtedness (low average debt at graduation and low percentage of students who borrow). Other categories were competitiveness (high test scores among freshmen, a low admission rate and a high yield as measures of selectivity and “intellectual synergy”); graduation rates (maximum points for the four-year rate; half that amount for a strong six-year rate); and academic support (number of students per faculty and freshman retention rate).

The Kiplinger’s story, “Best Values in Public Colleges,” focused on how Carolina, “this stellar school,” exemplified value. From the 1990s through the post-2008 recession, “UNC-Chapel Hill has been a leader for academic excellence, low cost and generous financial aid — exactly the criteria by which we define value,” wrote Jane Bennett Clark, senior associate editor.

The story traced UNC’s efforts to protect academics while absorbing more than $230 million in state budget reductions since 2008 by focusing cuts on administrative areas until this year, when course sections and classroom seats declined and class sizes increased. Kiplinger’s also reported on Carolina Counts, a campuswide initiative to make operations more efficient following a Bain & Co. study. Carolina Counts has identified and implemented $50 million in permanent administrative savings.

Kiplinger’s highlighted the University’s efforts to provide financial aid to students, pointing out that Carolina is one of only two top public universities (along with Virginia) that meets 100 percent of the documented need for all undergraduate students, including qualified out-of-state students.

Data considered for the Kiplinger’s top 100 list included total cost for in-state students (tuition, fees, room and board, and book expenses); the average cost for a student with need after subtracting non-need-based grants (not loans); the average percentage of need met by aid; and the average debt a student accumulates before graduation. For the out-of-state ranking, the magazine recalculated academic quality and expense numbers using total costs for nonresident students and average costs after financial aid.

In fall 2011, Carolina enrolled 4,026 first-year students from a record 23,753 applications. Eighty percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and they posted an average 1300 out of 1600 on the SAT. Eighteen percent were first-generation college students; another 12 percent were eligible for the Carolina Covenant, which promises qualified low-income students the chance to graduate debt-free.

N.C. undergraduates pay the next-to-last lowest rate among the University’s public campus peer group. Out-of-state undergraduates pay the fourth-lowest rate among those peers.

UNC graduates 81 percent of undergraduates in four years and 90 percent in six years. In 2010, 97 percent of first-year students returned for their sophomore year.

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