College tuition seems prohibitively high. Yet, many schools claim to meet the full “demonstrated need” of their graduates. Families who dig into the data become deeply skeptical of such claims. Just how much a given family can truly afford to spend on college is a figure upon which colleges and families tend to disagree.
Kiplinger has come to the rescue, with a provocative Top-10 list that attempts to rate how well colleges actually do in making themselves affordable. It’s a list of colleges whose students graduate, on average, with less than $20,000 in student loan debt.
I have adapted the list, using data from the Institute for College Access and Success, adding and subtracting a few institutions according to their tallies of student debt. The resulting list shows a slate of schools that, despite their selectivity and undeniably high tuition, tend to send graduates out into the world comparatively debt-free.
Take these numbers with a grain of salt. At Yale, for example, I would imagine a fair number of graduates come from families that have no need to borrow for college. Howard University, by contrast, serves a comparatively large number of students who would not be able to afford college but for their Pell grants.
Here is the list:
1. Princeton University. One of the first schools to enter the “full-need” movement, Princeton is arguably the nation’s best higher-education value. The average graduate carries $5,225 in debt.
2. Williams College. Parents might find it hard to believe, but this $55,000-a-year school yields graduates with an average debt load of $8,369, according to Kiplinger. (My own data source, College Insight, puts the figure at $15,520, still a comparative bargain.)
3. Howard University. The flagship HBCU has surprisingly low tuition (around $10,000), and its average graduate has $9,863 in loan debt.
4. Harvard University. The wealthiest college has one of the most generous aid programs, one that recognizes families earning $150,000 as “needy”. As a result, the average graduate has $10,102 in debt.
5. Claremont McKenna College. This liberal arts school, a rising star on the U.S. News rankings, boasts one of the sector’s strongest aid packages. Kiplinger puts its student debt average at $10,280. (My source puts it at about $15,000.)
6. Hampton University. Another elite HBCU, Hampton is just as affordable as Howard. Average graduate debt: $11,334.
7. Rice University. A top private national university in Texas, one I remember from my college-applicant days for charging no application fee. (Sadly, that is no longer the case.) Average graduate debt: $13,944.
8. Pomona College. Claremont McKenna’s sister school, even more academically prestigious, Pomona leaves the average graduate with $10,592 in debt, according to Kiplinger. (College Insight puts the figure at $15,600.)
9. CalTech. Graduate debt averages $12,214 at the nation’s (arguably) finest math-science school.
10. Stanford University. With an aid program to rival the Ivies, Stanford yields graduates with an average debt of $14,058.
And here are 10 other top colleges whose graduates, on average, carry less than $20,000 in debt: Amherst, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, Bucknell, Wellesley, Boston College and Duke.