Carolina #1 best academic value for N.C. and out-of-state students

Posted on Jan 3, 2012 in Campus and Community

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ranks as the number one value in American public higher education because it offers students high-quality academics at an affordable price, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ranks as the number one 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, UNC-Chapel Hill 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 number one 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 appeared in the February issue and will be posted along with a related story this morning (Jan. 3) at www.kiplinger.com/reports/best-college-values/.

“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. “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, Virginia and the College of William and Mary ranked second, third and fourth, followed by New College of Florida, and the universities of Georgia, California-Berkeley, Maryland at College Park, California at Los Angeles and California at San Diego. Other UNC system campuses on the list are UNC-Wilmington, 15th; NC 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 (low sticker 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).

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-Chapel Hill’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 campus-wide initiative to make operations more efficient following a Bain & Company study. Carolina Counts has identified and implemented $50 million in permanent administrative savings.

“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done to shelter undergraduate teaching,” Thorp said in the story. “We’re running out of ways to do that.”

The Kiplinger’s story praised schools like UNC-Chapel Hill for delivering a great education to students despite budget cuts. “North Carolina’s flagship institution boasts a highly competitive admission rate, a strong record for graduating students on time, an in-state cost that barely exceeds the national average and an admirable record on student borrowing:  More than two-thirds of Carolina students graduate debt-free,” Clark wrote.

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.

“We’ve done really well at Carolina because of the commitment on the part of the administration to take care of students,” Shirley Ort, associate provost and director of the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, said in the magazine’s story.

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 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 non-resident 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 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 $7,009 in tuition and required fees – the next-to-last lowest rate among the University’s public campus peer group. Out-of-state undergraduates pay $26,834, the fourth lowest rate among those peers. (Kiplinger’s noted that the total annual cost for in-state students after need-based aid awards was $6,548.)

A significant portion of any campus tuition increase is allocated for need-based financial aid. (For example, 45 percent of the revenue from a tuition increase proposed for next year would support need-based aid for undergraduate and graduate students.) Financial aid packages make up about two-thirds grants and scholarships and one-third loans and work-study. About 35 percent of Carolina seniors graduating in May 2011 borrowed and left with cumulative average debt of $15,472, down from $16,165 the previous year. The national average is about $25,000. Measured in constant dollars, the average cumulative debt for 2011 graduates was $2,525 less than the average cumulative debt for those who graduated in 2000.

UNC-Chapel Hill 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.

Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine has provided Americans with advice on managing their money and achieving financial security since 1947.

Photo URL:  http://bit.ly/sekxda (UNC Commencement photo published by Kiplinger’s)

For interviews with Chancellor Thorp, contact Mike McFarland, University Relations, 919-962-8593 o, 919-614-5436 c, mike_mcfarland@unc.edu.

For interviews with Kiplinger’s Jane Bennett Clark, senior associate editor, contact Shawna Sheldon, The Rosen Group, 212-255-7541 o, 917-971-7852 c, Shawna@rosengrouppr.com