For a Dozen Years, Carolina Tops Kiplinger's Rankings

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine has cited Carolina’s “stellar academics” at a bargain price in naming UNC — for the 12th time in a row — as the No. 1 value in American public higher education.

In the new rankings, released just before the end of 2012, UNC ranked first on Kiplinger’s list of the 100 universities and colleges that provide the best value to in-state students. The magazine also listed Carolina second for the best value offered to out-of-state students.

Since 1998, Kiplinger’s has periodically ranked the best public campus values; Carolina has been first every time. More about the new ranking appears in Kiplinger’s February issue, posted online on Dec. 27.

“Access and affordability are what allow us to attract great students from a broad range of backgrounds with different interests and different career goals,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86. “I can’t think of an aspect of this University that is more crucial to who we are. It’s the marriage of that with the academic excellence that creates the environment and the unique nature of Carolina.”

The universities of Florida, Virginia and the College of William and Mary ranked second, third and fourth, followed by the Universities of Maryland at College Park (fifth), New College of Florida (seventh) and the universities of California at Los Angeles (sixth), Berkeley (eighth) and San Diego (10th). The State University of New York at Geneseo ranked ninth for in-state value and first for out-of-state value.

Other UNC System campuses on the list are N.C. State, 21st; UNC School of the Arts, 31st; UNC-Wilmington, 32nd; Appalachian State, 36th; and UNC-Asheville, 52nd.

Kiplinger’s assesses quality according to a number of measurable standards, including the admission rate, the percentage of students who return for sophomore year, the student-faculty ratio and the four-year graduation rate. Cost criteria include low sticker prices, abundant financial aid and low average debt at graduation.

Kiplinger’s story, “Best Values in Public Colleges,” focused on how Carolina, “a perennial favorite,” came out on top yet again. “Credit its stellar academics, reasonable sticker price and generous financial aid,” wrote Susannah Snider, a Kiplinger’s staff writer.

The story pointed out that Carolina and Virginia are the only two top public universities that meet 100 percent of the documented need for all undergraduate students, including qualified out-of-state students.

“Meeting full need is a huge challenge, but it is such a high priority for us that we make whatever adjustments we have to,” Thorp said in the story.

Despite absorbing more than $230 million in state budget reductions since 2008, the University was able to hold its budget steady this year and even give a modest raise to faculty members, the first in four years. The faculty retention rate went up, and so did the number of class sections.

“We’re getting things back to where they were,” Thorp said in Kiplinger’s. “And we’re happy about that.”

Data considered for 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 grants that are not based on need (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 2012, Carolina enrolled 3,928 first-year students from a record 29,507 applicants. Nearly 79 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and they scored an average total of 1938 out of 2400 on the SAT. Seventeen 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 $7,694 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students pay $28,446. “Carolina’s total annual cost runs less than $20,000 — a bargain compared with private schools, which run an average of $39,518 a year, according to the College Board,” the Kiplinger’s story said, noting that the total annual cost for in-state students after need-based aid awards was $6,035.

A significant portion of any campus tuition increase is allocated for need-based financial aid. In September, the UNC System Board of Governors adopted a new policy that allows each campus to set its own limits for the percent of tuition increases used for financial aid. In 2012-13, 38 percent of new tuition revenue at Carolina is being returned to students as need-based aid, the maximum percent allowed by the board.

About 37 percent of Carolina undergraduates borrow to pay for their education, with an average debt at graduation of $17,525, fourth lowest in the Kiplinger’s top 10; the national average is $25,000.

UNC graduates 77 percent of undergraduates in four years, about 45 percentage points higher than the average rate for four-year public schools, Kiplinger’s reported.

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