Best Value Rankings by State 2016: Methodology

For each of our state ranking articles for 2016, we employed a targeted methodology that sought to capture the essence of value: high quality academics, a strong track record of student satisfaction and post-grad success, and affordability. We also understand that there’s no such thing as the “perfect” school, and that school performance in categories like admissions rate and alumni income don’t hold equal weight with everyone. That being said, looking at universities with good combinations of qualities can say a lot – particularly how well they invest your tuition dollars in services that will benefit you individually and improve student outcomes as a whole.

For more information, see our ranking categories below, which describe the indicators we used to determine the top schools in each state.

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, “net price” is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate – the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.