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 most affordable list may not have the lowest sticker price, but when measured through a lens of the potential earnings with a degree from each insititution as well as the average debt level of graduates, these are the schools where students are most able to shoulder the cost of their degree—and where the education has a proven 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 College InSight was weighted 25 percent. The total price, including tuition and living expenses according to 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.