25 Best Value Universities

Staff Writers picture
Staff Writers
Updated December 17, 2020

Are you ready to find your fit?

Universities with the Best Value

The value of a university education is something that is difficult to calculate, and this list of best value universities strives to factor in financial information provided from reliable sources. Those sources are Kiplinger's Best Values in Private Colleges and Kiplinger's Best Values in Public Colleges, which were used primarily for the total cost of attendance and average student debt figures; and Payscale's College ROI Rankings which was used for the figures on each college's 30 year net return on investment (ROI).

Featured Affordable Online Schools

Click here to request free information about Southern New Hampshire University's online programs.AD

There are many factors that play into the success of an individual that have nothing to do with where or if they attend college. This list is not a guarantee. This list is designed to act as a guide for students as they consider what kind of college they wish to attend. Earnings depend very much on the degree that is earned, and the ambition and ability of the person who earns the degree. So just getting into one of these schools doesn't guarantee that you will make the average earnings of graduates from that school.


There is no perfect system for ranking colleges by any standard. All such ranking systems are subjective. This ranking system prizes a low average student debt, and a high average 30 year net ROI. The reason behind this is simple. The low average student debt is important because every student, regardless of their future career, benefits from graduating with as little debt as possible. Even if a student does not choose a career that will earn the average 30 year net ROI of a given school, the lower their debt, the better their life. This is why we factor in the average student debt separately even though it is already factored into the average net return on investment. Schools are presented in ascending order by ROI.

25 Low Debt and High ROI Universities

The schools listed here represent a wide range of options. This list is intended to function as a guide. Many schools have comparable statistics to the ones listed here. The schools on this list represent different kinds of schools and the values one can find there. Not everybody can get into the Princetons and Browns of the higher education system. This list includes both very exclusive, high level universities, and very accessible universities many might not even have heard of that still offer a great value to students.

#1 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
#2 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN
#3 Princeton University Princeton, NJ
#4 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
#5 Rice University Houston, TX
#6 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
#7 University of California-Berkeley Berkeley, CA
#8 Brown University Providence, RI
#9 College of William and Mary Williamsburg, VA
#10 Brigham Young University-Provo Provo, UT

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

  1. California Institute of Technology

    Pasadena, CA



    Cal Tech is one of the premier research institutions in the United States, boasting a faculty consisting of many of the most brilliant minds in their respective fields. It possesses an incredibly low average student debt for a university that puts so much money into research. The 30 year net ROI is the highest on this list.

    Total Cost Per Year: $52,995
    Average Student Debt: $13,442
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.99 Million

  2. University of Notre Dame

    Notre Dame, IN



    Notre Dame is a Roman Catholic University. The school boasts one of the highest 30 year ROIs on this list, even edging out Princeton by a small margin. The average student debt is slightly higher than the national average, but the value of the education after graduation more than makes up for the debt incurred.

    Total Cost per Year: $55,855
    Average Student Debt: $30,225
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.25 Million

  3. Princeton University

    Princeton, NJ



    Princeton boasts one of the lowest average student debt rates for graduating students in the country. The financial aid department at Princeton strives specifically to help students avoid having to borrow any money, and the ones who do borrow, don't have to borrow much. The exclusivity of the school is its primary limiting factor, but if you can get into Princeton, it is without a doubt one of the highest value schools in the nation.

    Total Cost Per Year: $54,425
    Average Student Debt: $5,330
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.23 Million

  4. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA



    The University of Pennsylvania is a strong example of a top level, exclusive university and why they are considered to be one of the best values despite their high tuition. Universities like UPenn often seem to be very expensive, and if you are just considering the sticker price, they are. Despite the high cost of tuition and room/board at the University of Pennsylvania, the school can still be considered a great value. This is due to many factors that come together in such a way that the average graduating senior finishes school with much less student debt than the national average, and a higher than average 30 year return on investment. These factors include the quality of education offered at UPenn, and the extensive financial aid options available to students.

    Total Cost Per Year: $57,316
    Average Student Debt: $17,891
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.2 million

  5. Rice University

    Houston, TX



    Rice University is one of the best private universities in the country, and certainly one of the best values for those considering top of the line schools. Rice is also more accessible than many top schools, accepting 19% of applicants into the school. Rice has a high 30 year ROI, and a very low average student debt. While the tuition isn't necessarily cheap, it is certainly well below that of many of the other top schools in the nation. Rice offers a great value, without sacrificing the quality of education in the least.

    Total Cost Per Year: $50,692
    Average Student Debt: $16,528
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.07 Million

  6. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN



    Vanderbilt is another expensive university with strong financial aid. The aid packages allow the average student debt to sit about $10,000 lower than the national average. Vanderbilt's schools of education, engineering, and management are some of the most highly ranked in the country.

    Total Cost Per Year: $57,306
    Average Student Debt: $18,543
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.014 million

  7. University of California-Berkeley

    Berkeley, CA



    U.C. Berkeley is the top public university in the United States and one of the top 20 schools in the country overall. Its financial statistics are competitive with the top best value private universities. The 30 year net ROI is among the best in the country for universities with a great diversity of programs.

    Total Cost Per Year: in state $29,049, out of state $51,927
    Average Student Debt: $17,116
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.18 Million

  8. Brown University

    Providence, RI



    Another one of the best known private schools in the country, Brown has recently committed to fully meeting every student's financial need. This can be done through loans, but as you can see, the average indebtedness of Brown graduates is still $8,000 below the national average.

    Total Cost Per Year: $56,376
    Average Student Debt: $20,455
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.12 Million

  9. College of William and Mary

    Williamsburg, VA



    The College of William and Mary is a unique force in the higher education system. This public research university is the second oldest university in the United States, founded in 1693 and is considered to be a "Public Ivy". The school combines all the educational excellence of an Ivy League school with the accessibility of a public institution. The cost for in state students is less than half what one would expect from a private top rung university, and even the out of state tuition still comes in under the average among top schools in the nation. The school is ranked #32 among top national universities by U.S. News and World Report. With a low average debt among graduates and exceptionally high 30 year net ROI, especially among public universities, this school is definitely one of the best values in higher education today.

    Total Cost Per Year: in state $23,950, out of state $47,724
    Average Student Debt: $20,835
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $1.04 Million

  10. Brigham Young University-Provo

    Provo, UT



    BYU is an incredible deal. Not only is the total cost per year the lowest of private colleges on this list, but the average student debt is also incredibly low. The 30 year net ROI is impressive. BYU stands as an example of a school that offers a top of the line education, accepts the majority of applicants, and charges very low prices. Proof that it can be done.

    Total Cost Per Year: $17,552
    Average Student Debt: $14,320
    30 year net ROI above non-degree holders: $982,000

We hope that this list of the best value universities is of great help to you as you conduct your search for the best matching college program for you. For further reading, please see: 25 Best Value Colleges 2014 and 30 Best Affordable Online Colleges 2014

Get prepared for your next steps

Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.