For this year’s college rankings, we considered affordability on a college-by-college basis as a metric of long-term affordability. In other words, the schools that landed atop of our least affordable list may not have the highest sticker price, but when measured through a lens of earning potential as well as the average debt level of graduates, these are the schools where students are least able to shoulder the cost of their degree—and where the education has an uneven record of being a valuable investment relative to other schools.
To compile the list, we considered four factors: debt, total cost, financial aid, and future earnings. Average debt per student and the percent of students that graduate with debt, according to data from College InSight was weighted 25 percent. The total price, including tuition and living expenses, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), was weighted 25 percent, as was the percentage of full-time students receiving financial aid and the average amount of financial aid (this was a proxy for student wealth and financial need). The last 25 percent of the weighted ranking was based on the starting median salary and mid-career salary from each university, according to PayScale. Public schools with differing in-state and out-of-state total cost statistics were considered twice for this list, once for each level of total cost.
A correction to the average debt per graduate data for The University of Scranton and the University of North Dakota was submitted after the list was tabulated and is therefore not reflected in the ranking order.