Examining Kiplinger’s Best Value Colleges

Not too many articles on higher education feature my alma mater, Truman State University. In spite of a long tradition of internal accountability and doing a good job of graduating students on a shoestring budget, Truman lacks the name recognition of larger universities in most circles. This is why I was surprised to see the article discussing Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges feature Truman so prominently.

HPIM1595Winter at Truman State University

Kiplinger’s ranks the top 100 public four-year colleges and universities based on a combination of five different measures, with the point values being just as arbitrary as all of the other rankings (including the Washington Monthly rankings that I complied last fall). This is in spite of the claim that “neither our opinion nor anyone else’s affects the calculation.” While this may be true in the strictest sense, someone had to determine the point values!

The methodology is as follows:

(1)    Total cost of attendance and net price (after subtracting grant aid)—35%. This is calculated separately for in-state and out-of-state students.

(2)    Academic competitiveness (ACT/SAT scores, admit rate, and yield)—22.5%.

(3)    Graduation rates (four-year and six-year)—18.75%.

(4)    Academic support (retention rates and students per FTE faculty)—13.75%.

(5)    Student debt at graduation—10%.

As most college rankings are prone to do, the Kiplinger’s best value list still unnecessarily rewards colleges for being highly selective, both in the academic competitiveness and graduation measures. The focus on cost is very useful, although it does to some extent reward colleges in states which provide more public support (this is good for the student, but not necessarily as good for the taxpayer).

I do have one other gripe with the Kiplinger’s rankings—they are done separately for public and private colleges (the private college list came out last month). The editors should combine the two lists so the information can be more useful for students and their families. With that being said, the information in these lists is certainly useful to a segment of the collegegoing population.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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