By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we highlight the 20 best values in South Carolina colleges and universities.
South Carolina can sometimes be overshadowed by its northern neighbor, especially when schools like the University of North Carolina and Duke attract regular attention on ESPN. But if there were a TV channel devoted to value in higher education, this state would deserve its own segment. From Clemson University – a school nationally known for its school spirit and friendly community – to the University of South Carolina, there are more than enough options to satisfy even the most frugal college students. There are also plenty of great independent schools in the state, but you won’t find a single one with an annual net price over $20,000!
Each of the 20 schools that we have included below qualifies as affordable, but that’s not all. Each also boasts attractive features for students who demand the best, whether you’re looking for a powerful athletic program, challenging academics, small class sizes, or a campus that never sleeps. Our targeted methodology has ranked them according to some of the most important factors in higher education, including selectivity, cost, student engagement, and alumni success. You may also be interested in checking out our ranking of the best affordable online degree programs in South Carolina.
Our Ranking Methodology:
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.
After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 81 to 157, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in South Carolina.
Ranking the Best Values in South Carolina Colleges and Universities
20. University of South Carolina Beaufort
The history of the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s campus stretches back to the late 1700s, when it housed a preparatory school and later Beaufort College. After serving as a hospital during the Civil War, the campus went through several more changes before the University of South Carolina established a branch there in 1957. Since then, the campus has steadily grown both in size and the number of degrees it offers. Nursing is one of its most recent additions, and students in the program learn by using state-of-the-art robotic patient simulators. What’s more, marine biology and hospitality management majors can take advantage of the nearby Hilton Head Resort for internships and research opportunities.
Net Price: $14,503/yr
19. Erskine College
Due West, SC
Perfect for students who want to enjoy a serene atmosphere that still offers plenty to do, this South Carolina college is located in the historic town of Due West. Both the town and Erskine College are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Due West holds an annual festival to celebrate the town’s rich history. For students who want to enjoy the kind of tranquility that even a small town of 1,200 residents can’t provide, the area is full of outdoor attractions such as lakes and hiking trails. The campus of this top South Carolina college is equally restful while still boasting top-notch facilities, such as a high-tech science lab.
Net Price: $16,253/yr
18. University of South Carolina Aiken
Consistently ranked one of the best South Carolina colleges and one of the top regional colleges in the country, the University of South Carolina Aiken is a rapidly growing USC school. The town of Aiken has a long equestrian tradition, with plenty of opportunities for students to train, compete, or ride just for the fun of it. USC Aiken gives students the chance to pursue an existing interest in riding or develop a new one with its equestrian club and polo team. For students who prefer to stay on two legs, USC Aiken also hosts a wide array of clubs, cultural events, and public lectures throughout the year.
Net Price: $12,887/yr
17. Clinton College
Rock Hill, SC
This South Carolina college’s liberal arts curriculum is designed to give its students a broad understanding of the world so that they can grow spiritually and make positive contributions to their community. This cheap South Carolina college has been educating students nonstop for more than 120 years. A historically black college, Clinton was originally formed as a boarding school for the descendants of slaves who would not have previously had such educational opportunities, then became a teacher’s college in the early 1900s. Since then, the college has grown to offer five associate degree programs and two bachelor degree programs.
Net Price: $6,336/yr
16. Claflin University
Claflin University is committed to equipping students to be good citizens and leaders as well as scholars. It ranks among the best universities in South Carolina for its liberal arts curriculum and is regarded as one of the country’s best historically black universities. Most faculty members hold the highest degree possible in their field, and Claflin’s low 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio means that students get the full benefit of their expertise. Faculty members are also actively engaged in research, and some students get the opportunity to work alongside them on projects.
Net Price: $19,803/yr
15. Voorhees College
When this South Carolina college was established in 1897 its founder, Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, was just 23 years old and had recently finished school herself. Wright was a student at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute and she dedicated herself to carrying on his legacy and helping to educate underserved black students in her home state. Today, this historically black college is ranked among the best colleges in South Carolina, combining stellar academics with a tradition of community service and spiritual development. Voorhees offers 13 majors and invites a variety of speakers to the campus each year to aid in students’ enrichment outside the classroom.
Net Price: $15,136/yr
14. Converse College
As one of the first women’s colleges in the U.S., South Carolina college has been offering its students a top-tier education for more than 125 years. It has a very low student to faculty ratio of 12 to 1, and 94% of its faculty members have achieved their field’s highest degree. Not only that, this already cheap college in South Carolina recently introduced a rare tuition reset. As of the 2014 school year, Converse’s tuition dropped 43% – back to the level it was nearly 10 years ago! Along with the school’s robust financial aid package, that makes Converse College one of the most affordable colleges in South Carolina, and a great value at that.
Net Price: $17,826/yr
13. North Greenville University
North Greenville University, a Christian college affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, ranks high in both student satisfaction and value. This cheap South Carolina college is among the most affordable Christian schools in the country. Its professors have earned accolades as well, having been named the second best in the country in a report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which makes NGU the highest-ranking school in the South for instructor quality. Fortunately for students, NGU’s low 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio means that they’ll get the chance to work closely with some of the country’s best educators.
Net Price: $15,118/yr
12. Coastal Carolina University
Located just eight miles outside of Myrtle Beach, this South Carolina university consists of 102 buildings spread across a sprawling 633-acre campus. This prime location gives students more than just the chance to enjoy the fantastic coastal weather, though. It allows Coastal Carolina University to offer courses at the Myrtle Beach Education Center and operate a 1,105-acre tract of land on the coast. Students have access to this land, which includes part of Waties Island, to conduct research in marine biology, climate science, geology, and other scientific disciplines. As such, it’s no surprise that biology and marine science are among this top South Carolina college’s most popular majors.
Net Price: $14,231/yr
11. Winthrop University
Rock Hill, SC
From a teacher’s college operating out of a borrowed one-room schoolhouse, this South Carolina university has grown to become one of the state’s top colleges. In addition to its outstanding academic record, Winthrop’s campus is one of the most active in the country. More than 150 organizations exist on campus, including professional groups, ministries, Greek organizations, and sports teams. Winthrop’s Student Union Program Board has been called one of the best in the nation, regularly bringing renowned lecturers and entertainers to campus in addition to holding numerous cultural events.
Net Price: $15,856/yr
10. Southern Wesleyan University
Southern Wesleyan University’s scenic campus in Central, South Carolina, houses more than 700 students who form an engaged community. For students who already have jobs or families and need to work around busy schedules, the school also operates flexible evening classes that meet only once per week. Whatever path students at this affordable South Carolina college take, they’ll find themselves surrounded by friendly, supportive faces. Affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, the school prides itself on being open to students of all Christian denominations, providing an education for anyone who wants to focus on both scholarship and faith.
Net Price: $16,022/yr
9. Presbyterian College
Always devoted to its principles, Presbyterian College keeps its traditional Honor System at the heart of student life. The Honor System was developed in 1915 to remind individuals of their duty to the whole student body and prohibits any behavior that would harm fellow students. Violations can be brought before a group of students and faculty with authority to suspend or even dismiss guilty students. Though it may sound restrictive, the Honor System has helped this top South Carolina college create a close community of students who trust and respect one another. Together with a selective 54% acceptance rate, the Honor System imbues Presbyterian College with a challenging but rewarding atmosphere.
Net Price: $17,442/yr
8. Francis Marion University
Unlike many of the top universities in South Carolina, which trace their origins back to the 1800s, Francis Marion University (founded in 1957) is a relative newcomer on the block. But rather than focus on history, FMU continues to look ahead to find new ways to innovate. Most buildings on campus were either built or have been renovated since 1970, and one-quarter of the 400-acre campus is dominated by forests crisscrossed with walking trails. The campus also houses an arboretum to hold many of the area’s native tree species, a daycare center for staff and students’ families, and a top-notch writing center to help students with assignments throughout the year.
Net Price: $10,485/yr
7. Lander University
Originally serving as a private women’s college, this affordable South Carolina university joined the state university system in 1973. In recent years the number of residential students at Lander has grown rapidly, leading the school to lease a number of nearby apartment complexes to supplement its residence halls, which collectively house around 1,600 students. Major improvements have been underway in the last few decades, bringing Lander a new residence hall, dining hall, athletic facilities, and upgrades to many existing buildings. Its academic offerings have also expanded dramatically, and Lander now has more than 60 undergraduate programs available.
Net Price: $13,998/yr
6. Citadel Military College of South Carolina
In addition to being among the best cheap colleges in South Carolina, The Citadel has the distinction of offering an education in a demanding military environment. Its undergraduate Corps of Cadets program enrolls 2,250 students who combine their academic studies with rigorous physical fitness training and military instruction. The Citadel places a premium on leadership and discipline, and students regularly volunteer to community organizations. At its annual Leadership Day event alone, students provide local organizations with an estimated $185,000 worth of volunteer service. It’s no surprise that the Carnegie Foundation has named The Citadel one of the most civic-minded colleges in the country.
Net Price: $17,450/yr
5. University of South Carolina Columbia
With a history reaching back to 1801, the University of South Carolina Columbia is nationally recognized for its excellence in research and athletics. The Carnegie Foundation has named USC the top college in South Carolina for research, and its business programs and Honors College have been rated the best in the nation. As the flagship school of the USC system, USC Columbia enrolls nearly 25,000 undergraduate students and maintains a high 73% graduation rate. The student athletes are among the most academically successful in the country – despite the time they spend maintaining the school’s reputation as one of the most competitive names in college sports.
Net Price: $17,972/yr
4. Coker College
This affordable South Carolina college promises a solid liberal arts foundation to students in 50 academic programs. And no matter which of these academic degrees a student chooses to pursue, he or she will benefit from hands-on training and a faculty to student ratio of just 12 to 1 – that’s one of the lowest in the country! If none of those programs are the right fit, Coker offers options to design an individualized major or complete an honors research project. That’s all available at one of the best cheap colleges in South Carolina, since Coker maintains a generous scholarship program based on merit. That being said, both scholarships and admission are competitive, as Coker maintains a respectable 51% acceptance rate.
Net Price: $15,378/yr
3. Columbia International University
This South Carolina university combines traditional academics with Biblical instruction, preparing students to follow a path into ministry or enter a number of secular careers while focusing on their faith. In addition, the school has been called one of the best universities in South Carolina for military veterans and one of the nation’s best Christian universities – both top selling points for the most patriotic and religious of applicants. Students at Columbia International must agree to abide by a lifestyle code that includes acceptance of Biblical values and restricts activities such as public displays of affection. But the students who attend don’t seem to mind; of the 33% of applicants who receive an acceptance letter, Columbia International graduates a commendable 68%.
Net Price: $19,649/yr
2. University of South Carolina Upstate
A metropolitan university designed to meet the needs of its surrounding community, the South Carolina university was originally founded to educate health care professionals after a local hospital closed its nurse training program. The school has expanded continuously since then, taking the name USC Upstate in 2004 to reflect its burgeoning impact on the entire region. In fact, it’s the fastest growing university in the entire state. This top South Carolina college now enrolls more than 5,000 undergraduates in a diverse range of majors while maintaining a selective 47% acceptance rate.
Net Price: $14,597/yr
1. Clemson University
Gaining admission to Clemson University may be difficult, but those who make the cut say that it’s worth it. With a selective 52% acceptance rate and an impressive 82% graduation rate, Clemson pays off for those who do manage to secure a spot. If you’re not convinced, just ask the 92% of graduating seniors say that they’d pick Clemson again if they were just starting school. In addition to its renowned academics and beautiful campus, this top South Carolina university gives students plenty of opportunities to make their voices heard through campus media. For example, The Tiger, one of its two student-run newspapers, is the oldest and one of the most distinguished in the state. Students also operate an international affairs magazine, a literary magazine, a television station, and a radio station.
Net Price: $16,799/yr
This concludes our best value ranking of South Carolina colleges and universities.
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.