AuthorKelchen, Robert

Although the American economy made it through the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic in surprisingly strong shape, rising inflation and an unpredictable supply chain are stretching the budgets of many families. As the prices of housing, food, gasoline, and other essentials continue to rise faster than household incomes, a college education may end up becoming an important item that families simply cannot afford without taking out large student and parent loans.

Layer mounting skepticism of the value of higher education and growing political polarization on top of financial concerns for many families, and it becomes more crucial than ever for colleges to provide high-quality, affordable educations to students from modest financial backgrounds. To help families identify those institutions, the Washington Monthly created the Best Bang for the Buck college rankings 10 years ago. This year's rankings, broken down by region, begin on page 66. (We used the same data and methodology to create the social mobility portion of the main rankings, which begin on page 76; the methodology is explained on page 120.)

The Best Bang for the Buck colleges primarily consist of regionally focused public and private nonprofit colleges that are dedicated to providing affordable educations to their students. While some of America's wealthiest and most rejective colleges--such as Duke, MIT, and Vanderbilt--are highly ranked, many appear in the middle of the pack despite having the resources to do better. For example, Amherst College, ranked the second-best liberal arts school in the country by U.S. News & World Report, checks in at number 42 in the Monthly's Best Bang ranking for the Northeast region, despite an endowment approaching $4 billion to support fewer than 2,000 students. One spot ahead of Amherst is SUNY at New Paltz, which provides high-value educations to more than three times as many undergraduates on a far more modest budget--the university just completed its first capital campaign to the tune of $25 million.

In the Northeast, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy again anchors the top of the list, with New York's Boricua College and Rutgers University-Newark in the top 10, elbowing aside wealthier colleges. Berea College maintains its top ranking in the South, followed by four Texas public universities in the top 10. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley stands out at number five for graduating 2,106 Pell Grant recipients, or approximately...

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