Howard University students have a reason to smile. The flagship HBCU has surprisingly low tuition (around $10,000), and its average graduate has $9,863 in loan debt. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

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.