In a recent ranking of its best value colleges, Kiplinger’s compiled a list of schools that offer the best educational bang for the buck. A few of the colleges, whether through affordable tuition or generous aid, manage to get their students through graduation with an average debt of less that $15,000.
Even if you are not in the same area as some of these low-debt schools, many offer online programs that will allow you to take advantage of their top-notch academics and affordable tuition.
North Georgia College & State University
Avg. debt at graduation: $10,128
In-state rank: #96
Undergrad enrollment: 5,541
Annual in-state cost: $14,382
Annual out-of-state cost: $26,658
Students who borrow: 55%
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains in Dahlonega, Ga., about an hour’s drive north of Atlanta, North Georgia College & State University stands on what was once the U.S. Mint’s Dahlonega location. The steeple of Price Memorial Hall is covered with gold leaf, harking to the town’s gold-rush history. The below-average cost of attendance ($14,382, compared with the $17,860 average for public colleges), as well as the generous HOPE scholarship available to in-state students, allow students to graduate with an average of only $10,128 in debt, less than half the national average and the lowest amount on the list.
California State University, Long Beach
Avg. debt at graduation: $12,401
In-state rank: #82
Undergrad enrollment: 29,287
Annual in-state cost: $19,688
Annual out-of-state cost: $30,848
Students who borrow: 42%
Only 30% of applicants are admitted to this campus, which is part of the California State University system, but more than half of those who attend receive need-based aid. Merit aid averages nearly $3,000, helping to reduce students’ need to borrow. The school’s 322-acre campus, located about 25 miles south of Los Angeles, overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
Avg. debt at graduation: $13,697
In-state rank: #59
Undergrad enrollment: 5,852
Annual in-state cost: $18,119
Annual out-of-state cost: $27,369
Students who borrow: 75%
The State University of New York (SUNY), Oneonta, is located halfway between Albany and Binghamton, and awards nearly $2.5 million in scholarships each year based on academic achievement. The awards range from $1,000 to $5,870. While the percentage of students who take out loans is among the highest on the Kiplinger’s list of 100 public colleges, the average amount that each student owes at graduation — $13,697 — is only about half the national average ($26,600).
New College of Florida
Avg. debt at graduation: $14,172
In-state rank: #7
Undergrad enrollment: 845
Annual in-state cost: $16,181
Annual out-of-state cost: $39,210
Students who borrow: 32%
This small college located in Sarasota, Fla., was founded as a private college in 1960 but joined the state university system in 1975. The school shares its campus with the University of South Florida. Not only do 90% of New College students receive financial aid, but the average need-based aid brings the total cost for in-state students to a bargain $7,674. Only 32% of undergraduates take out student loans, the lowest percentage of student borrowers among the schools on Kiplinger’s top 100 list.
Avg. debt at graduation: $16,010
In-state rank: #33
Undergrad enrollment: 19,334
Annual in-state cost: $20,333
Annual out-of-state cost: $30,953
Students who borrow: 45%
The largest school in the SUNY system, this research institution has several large merit-based scholarships for top-notch applicants and recently launched an initiative dedicated to helping students graduate on time. The University at Buffalo’s “Finish in 4″ program aims to get students to do just that, avoiding the expense of an additional year. If a student takes the pledge and fulfills each of the commitments–including limiting work to 20 hours or less per week–and still doesn’t graduate on time, the school will waive tuition and fees for any remaining coursework.
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Avg. debt at graduation: $16,252
In-state rank: #52
Undergrad enrollment: 3,814
Annual in-state cost: $14,450
Annual out-of-state cost: $28,272
Students who borrow: 53%
The University of North Carolina at Asheville keeps student borrowing to a minimum with a variety of scholarship and grant programs: An average need-based aid award of nearly $6,000 reduces the cost for in-staters to $8,521. The school attracts student scholars with its Laurels scholarships, which range from small awards to the full cost of attendance and can be renewed for all four years if students meet the requirements. It also offers an extensive list of departmental scholarships.
San Diego State University
Avg. debt at graduation: $16,400
In-state rank: #77
Undergrad enrollment: 26,371
Annual in-state cost: $21,845
Annual out-of-state cost: $33,005
Students who borrow: 44%
This Southern California-based research institution is the third-largest university in the state and among the most selective schools on Kiplinger’s 100 public colleges list, with only five schools more discerning. San Diego State University offers admission to one-third of applicants; roughly 50% of the students who attend receive financial aid. The average need-based aid reduces the cost to $12,645, for in-state students and to $23,805, for out-of-staters.