AMERICA'S BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK COLLEGES 2018: Our exclusive list of schools that help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.

Author:Kelchen, Robert
Position:Table
 
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Unlike most traditional college rankings, the Washington Monthly's have always made colleges' contribution to social mobility a priority. We started our annual Best Bang for the Buck rankings back in 2012 using little more than graduation rates for first-time, full-time students, the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, and the typical price that moderate-income families pay for college after grant aid. Thankfully, more data on social mobility has become available over the last few years as policymakers have placed more of a focus on social mobility. In spite of its stated intention to downsize the U.S. Department of Education (or even merge it with the Department of Labor), the Trump administration has so far continued to provide data on loan repayment rates, earnings, and the percentage of first-generation students, data that was first made available back in 2015 by the Obama administration.

We have long advocated in these pages for better graduation rate data, and this year the Department of Education introduced two new sets of statistics that show a clearer picture of social mobility. Graduation rates are now available for all students--not just first-time, full-time students, who make up an ever-smaller share of college students--as well as separate graduation rate data for Pell Grant recipients. We are pleased to incorporate this data into the 2018 Best Bang for the Buck rankings, which are broken down by region beginning on page 44. (We used the same data and methodology to create the social mobility portion of the main rankings, which begin on page 74; the methodology is explained beginning on page 109.)

The Best Bang for the Buck colleges across each of the five regions are a mix of some of America's most elite institutions and hidden gems that make up for a lack of name recognition with strong student outcomes and a commitment to social mobility. In the Northeast, the public Massachusetts Maritime Academy (with a low net price, and average annual earnings of around $80,000 ten years after starting college) noses out Harvard and Princeton, while landlubbers may wish to consider fourth-ranked Rutgers-Camden. Berea College and College of the Ozarks, which both primarily serve students from modest financial backgrounds at low prices, maintain their top rankings in the South and Midwest regions, respectively.

Georgia's Augusta University (where 43 percent of students receive Pell Grants) is number 2 in the Southeast and a great option for students who want more socioeconomic diversity than number 1, Washington and Lee (10 percent Pell), and number 3, Georgetown (13 percent Pell). Finally, two California State University campuses (Stanislaus and Bakersfield) are best in the West. That's in large part because their Pell and non-Pell students graduate at the same rate, and because nearly 60 percent of their students are the first in their family to attend college. Cal State deserves additional credit for placing twelve of its campuses in the top thirty in the West region, showing a commitment to social mobility within both the system and the state.

As usual, the bottom of the rankings features not just middling public universities and for-profit institutions, but also a striking number of private nonprofit colleges with strong national reputations that are not living up to the hype for middle-class students. Baylor, Catholic, Chapman, Hofstra, and Tulane are all well-known, relatively prestigious universities. They also serve few Pell recipients and first-generation students, charge students high net prices, and graduate Pell recipients at lower rates than other students. The website for High Point University, ranked fourth from the bottom in the Southeast, proudly features a "campus concierge" that provides free iPad rentals, among other offerings. The recreational facilities include--just to scratch the surface--three sand volleyball courts, five heated pools, and four fourteen-person jacuzzi hot tubs. (There is also an indoor, apparently unheated, pool, and another hot tub, of unspecified capacity.) Yet with an annual net price of $33,433 and median post-college earnings of $38,176, we can think of some better uses of students' and parents' money.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University, is data manager of the Washington Monthly College Guide.

BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK MIDWEST COLLEGES * Public institution ** For-profit institution 8-years Graduation Predicted graduation rate rank grad rate rate based on % of Pell recipients, incoming STAs, etc. 1 College of the 67% 20 42% Ozarks (MO) 2 Union Institute & 70% 180 40% University (OH) 3 National Louis 67% 215 43% University (IL) 4 Grace Christian 38% 301 37% University (MI) 5 Indiana Wesleyan 66% 76 58% University (IN) 6 University of Illinois 66% 227 63% at Chicago (IL) * 7 Bethel College- 69% 50 54% Mishawaka (IN) 8 Central Christian 48% 199 40% College of Kansas (KS) 9 Herzing University 41% 336 35% (WI) ** 10 Rockford 60% 134 55% University (IL) 11 Bradley University 76% 15 71% (IL) 12 Eastern Illinois 64% 102 58% University (IL) * 13 Western Illinois 61% 124 54% University (IL) * 14 MacMurray College (IL) 46% 231 47% 15 College of Saint 82% 85 75% Benedict (MN) 16 Drury University (MO) 36% 361 52% 17 Univ. of IL-Urbana- 86% 37 79% Champaign (IL) * 18 Argosy University- 36% 374 25% Chicago (IL) 19 Illinois Institute of 67% 216 70% Technology (IL) 20 University of Notre 96% 5 94% Dame (IN) 21 Millikin University 65% 23 58% (IL) 22 Saint John's 82% 92 70% University (MN) 23 Urbana University (OH) 38% 300 36% 24 Ohio State-Marion 50% 174 50% (OH) * 25 Fort Hays State 65% 94 44% University (KS) * 26 Illinois State 74% 126 65% University (IL) * 27 Goshen College (IN) 70% 8 54% 28 Ohio Northern 71% 4 68% University (OH) 29 Ripon College (WI) 68% 219 62% 30 Kettering University 64% 108 64% (MI) 31 Dominican University 66% 72 62% (IL) 32 Waldorf University 44% 248 44% (IA) ** 33 Milwaukee School of 56% 194 65% Engineering (WI) 34 Governors State 66% 77 44% University (IL) * 35 Buena Vista 62% 41 57% University (IA) 36 Mt. Vernon Nazarene 62% 118 56% Univ. (OH) 37 Drake University (IA) 77% 11 73% 38 Univ. of Wisconsin- 54% 236 57% Green Bay (WI) * 39 Southwestern College 59% 154 36% (KS) 40 Saint Xavier 62% 120 58% University (IL) 41 Chadron State 41% 338 51% College (NE) * 42 Illinois College (IL) 77% 122 63% 43 Cornell College (IA) 68% 228 70% 44 Mount Mercy 72% 29 59% University (IA) 45 Rochester College (MI) 59% 69 46% 46 Univ. of Wisconsin- 63% 115 61% Stevens Point (WI) * 47 Aurora University (IL) 69% 49 57% 48 MO Univ. of Science & 69% 197 65% Technology (MO) * 49 DePauw University (IN) 81% 98 80% 50 Michigan Technological 67% 218 66% University (MI) * Grad rate Pell/non-Pell Pell grad performance grad rate gap gap rank rank 1 College of the 5 -5% 101 Ozarks (MO) 2 Union Institute & 1 10% 10 University (OH) 3 National Louis 2 3% 24 University (IL) 4 Grace Christian 166 20% 6 University (MI) 5 Indiana Wesleyan 48 30% 2 University (IN) 6 University of Illinois 100 -1% 39 at Chicago (IL) * 7 Bethel College- 15 1% 37 Mishawaka (IN) 8 Central Christian 47 17% 9 College of Kansas (KS) 9 Herzing University 60 11% 12 (WI) ** 10 Rockford 80 2% 32 University (IL) 11 Bradley University 73 19% 4 (IL) 12 Eastern Illinois 68 -3% 77 University (IL) * 13 Western Illinois 52 -7% 127 University (IL) * 14 MacMurray College (IL) 221 20% 5 15 College of Saint 39 -3% 104 Benedict (MN) 16 Drury University (MO) 381 80% 1 17 Univ. of IL-Urbana- 41 -4% 74 Champaign (IL) * 18 Argosy University- 18 7% 17 Chicago (IL) 19 Illinois Institute of 252 -6% 103 Technology (IL) 20 University of Notre 122 -3% 67 Dame (IN) 21 Millikin University 55 -9% 148 (IL) 22 Saint John's 17 -2% 93 University (MN) 23 Urbana University (OH) 150 35% 3 24 Ohio State-Marion 207 -9% 154 (OH) * 25 Fort Hays State 8 -10% 186 University (KS) * 26 Illinois State 24 -12% 226 University (IL) * 27 Goshen College (IN) 14 -16% 272 28 Ohio Northern 125 -9% 147 University (OH) 29 Ripon College (WI) 44 -8% 173 30 Kettering University 209 -18% 332 (MI) 31 Dominican University 95 -12% 222 (IL) 32 Waldorf University 188 13% 14 (IA) ** 33 Milwaukee School of 332 -16% 301 Engineering (WI) 34 Governors State 7 N/A 132 University (IL) * 35 Buena Vista 92 -17% 273 University (IA) 36 Mt. Vernon Nazarene 65 -6% 109 Univ. (OH) 37 Drake University (IA) 106 2% 28 38 Univ. of Wisconsin- 246 -4% 84 Green Bay (WI) * 39 Southwestern College 6 -18% 330 (KS) 40 Saint Xavier 102 -16% 300 University (IL) 41 Chadron State 347 8% 16 College (NE) * 42 Illinois College (IL) 10 -22% 360 43 Cornell College (IA) 234 22% 7 44 Mount Mercy 20 -8% 152 University (IA) 45 Rochester College (MI) 21 5% 27 46 Univ. of Wisconsin- 158 -6% 107 Stevens Point (WI) * 47 Aurora University (IL) 27 -9% 163 48 MO Univ. of Science & 98 -19% 345 Technology (MO) * 49 DePauw University (IN) 178 -4% 124 50 Michigan Technological 182 -7% 121 University (MI) * Student Predicted % Pell receiving Pell based performance Pell Grants on ACT/SAT rank and admit rates 1 College of the 58% 47% 28 Ozarks (MO) 2 Union Institute & 45% 53% 341 University (OH) 3 National Louis 51% 44% 59 University (IL) 4 Grace Christian 66% 57% 47 University (MI) 5 Indiana Wesleyan 35% 27% 48 University (IN) 6 University of Illinois 52% 30% 4 at Chicago (IL) * 7 Bethel College- 48% 35% 20 Mishawaka (IN) 8 Central Christian 47% 51% 284 College of Kansas (KS) 9 Herzing University 74% 47% 3 (WI) ** 10 Rockford 51% 40% 30 University (IL) 11 Bradley University 24% 23% 178 (IL) 12 Eastern Illinois 40% 43% 248 University (IL) * 13 Western Illinois 46% 43% 140 University (IL) * 14 MacMurray College (IL) 57% 47% 36 15 College of Saint 24% 24% 182 Benedict (MN) 16 Drury University (MO) 52% 22% 2 17 Univ. of IL-Urbana- 21% 17% 96 Champaign (IL) * 18 Argosy University- 76% 59% 6 Chicago...

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