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best value schoolsA college or university degree is a sizable investment, and you want to be sure that you are getting your money’s worth when deciding which degree to get and which school to attend. How much a college education will cost depends on the type of degree, the specific college or university, and, at public institutions, whether you are an in-state resident student or attending an institution out-of-state. Generally, the tuition cost for in-state students at public colleges is about one-half as much as the cost of attending an institution out-of-state.


How Much Does College Cost?*


Public Schools


Average annual tuition, fees, and room and board for in-state undergraduate students at 4-year public institutions

Private Schools


Average annual tuition, fees, and room and board for undergraduate students at private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions


$5,045: 10-year increase, public institutions (30%)
$4,476: 10-year increase, private institutions (13%)

* Source: NCES, 2011-2012 school year


These figures are for four year, undergraduate programs. The average cost of a two year Associate degree, according to the same source, was $8,734 a year. We focus on affordability and value in education. For example, see our top 10 cheap online degrees and reviews of the cheapest online degrees by major. For further exploration by major study area, spend some time exploring these pages:


What Constitutes Value?

Defining the value of a college degree is in some ways a subjective process. What is valuable to one person may not be the same for someone else. Nonetheless, there are some objective measures that can be used in defining value in a college education.

In surveys of students, the ratio of faculty to students at a college often ranks high in terms of what they consider valuable. Most students also agree that a low price tag is not really the best indicator of value in a degree. Many students also say that the school environment, student clubs and organizations, and availability of financial aid are important factors in what they consider valuable in their education.

Another way to determine the value of a college education is by examining the Return on Investment (ROI) of the earned education–comparing the cost of obtaining the degree against the amount of income the degree holder can expect during his or her working life, as well as the projected job market for the profession. If you find an inexpensive program, get a degree, but then find that there are few jobs in the field, you have probably not really received good value for your educational investment. On the other hand, if you get a degree that costs a lot but gets you into a profession that has high demand and high salaries, you will be getting good value for the money you spent, even though it was costly. Of course, choosing a college major should also always include a consideration of your personal interests and talents. Getting a degree that lands you a high paying job that you hate is not really a good value either. If researching a university’s ROI is a tool you would find useful in your college search, these links will be of great help.


Examples of High Value

Forbes magazine has investigated value in education using the criteria of the cost of different degrees and comparing it to the average salaries and job opportunities available to people with those degrees, using information from and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many of what they determine to be the most valuable degrees are in the sciences with biomedical engineering coming in at the top of the list.

Other degree types that Forbes found to be good value are as follows.

Business (See: Top 25 Ranked Business and Economics Programs With the Best Return on Investment (ROI) 2014)
Software engineering
Environmental engineering
Petroleum engineering
Applied Mathematics
Physics (See: Top 25 Ranked Bachelor of Physics Programs With the Best Return on Investment (ROI) 2014)

All of these fields are experiencing job growth rates far above average, and this trend is expected to continue over the next decade. Most of these professions also have more jobs available than there are graduates, giving degree holders a wide range of employment opportunities and high salaries.

Each year, U.S. News ranks colleges and universities on a wide range of factors related to value in education. Amongst the top ten in this year’s rankings include the three below.


Amherst College, Amherst, MA was at the top of the list with 57.1 percent of students receiving need-based financial aid and an average tuition cost of $15,557 per year after aid.

Cal Tech

California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA had 53.8 percent of students getting degrees with the help of financial assistance. The average cost after aid at Cal Tech was $21,732 per year.


Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY had 66.4 percent of students getting degrees with the help of financial aid.

It had average tuition after aid of $19,640 annually.

The following articles will be of further interest to you as you search for the best value for your college education.


Value in Online Learning

Online learning is expanding rapidly. Online, or distance learning, has many advantages over campus based, brick and mortar degree programs for many students when it comes to value. One advantage is that many online programs charge the same tuition for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Check out our picks for top online colleges of 2014.

If you study from home, you also save money on transportation, room and board, and some of the fees that are associated with campus learning. There is also considerable flexibility about when to study: You can listen to lectures and do course work on your own schedule without being restricted to the same time-slots that are part of taking classes at a campus, and online degree programs can often be entered at any time of the year without having to wait for the beginning of a semester or term to start.

Distance learning also makes it easier for students to have a job while attaining a degrees. All of these factors make distance learning a good value for getting a college education. Here are a few examples of online colleges and their tuition rates.

  • Kaplan University: $353 per credit hour regardless of residency.
  • Walden University: $580 per credit hour regardless of residency.
  • Colorado State University: $289 for in-state resident students and $1243 for out-of-state students per credit hour.

To make looking for online degrees easier, we’ve assembled a collection of Cheap Online Colleges and Degree Programs. For example:

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