Despite efforts to become nationally recognized as a notable research university, VCU failed to appear on a list that ranks American universities based on best value of education versus tuition cost.
Kiplinger Magazine, a Washington, D.C.-based publisher of business forecasts and personal finance advice, published its Best Values in Public Colleges List in December. The objective of the list is to determine which American public colleges have the best academic value for the cost, and VCU has never cracked the top 100.
Out of the top 100 colleges which make up the list, there were seven universities from Virginia, including James Madison University (No. 20 on this year’s list), the College of William and Mary (No. 4) and the University of Virginia (No. 2). Schools included on the list were ranked based on cost and financial aid, student indebtedness, competitiveness, graduation rates and academic support.
According to Kiplinger Magazine staff writer Susannah Snider, VCU did not make the ranking because it did not stack up to schools in the top 100 based on the criteria.
“We start with a huge number of colleges, at least 600 public four-year schools, and we have to narrow it down to something we can work with, to about a 130 to make the top 100. The colleges that fall in the top 100 are already a very competitive group,” Snider said
Some of the reasons why schools like U. Va ranked high were because of financial factors, according to U.Va spokesman Charles McCance.
“A solid financial foundation supports U.Va. It’s one of only two public universities with a Triple-A bond rating from all three major credit rating agencies … U.Va’s primary financial aid program, called AccessUVA, pledges to meet 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need.” McCance said. “AccessUVA was rated as the best in the nation among public institutions in The Princeton Review’s 2013 colleges guidebook.”
Kiplinger also cited U.Va.’s 97 percent freshman retention rate as a reason the school moved up two spots this year to capture the title of the second best value for a public college in America.
At the College of William and Mary, Brian Whitston, the associate vice president of communications, said some of the reasons why they made the list were because of student and graduate factors.
“Our 82.2 percent four-year graduation rate is 4th nationally among public universities … We also have a very low student loan default rate, the most recent I have is 0.6 percent,” Whitston said in an email. “William & Mary has the lowest undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio which is 12-to-1.”
Luke Schultheis, the vice provost for strategic enrollment management at VCU, said that while VCU may not have made it on the 2013 list or any past lists, VCU still has programs that benefit students.
“At VCU, we don’t chase ratings, but rather work very deliberately across the institution toward achieving transparent and widely accepted goals,” Schultheis said.
While VCU is working to meet these goals, the cost of achieving them is rising.
Tuition has increased significantly over the last three years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. For the 2009-10 school year, tuition for in-state students at VCU was $7,117; out-of-state tuition costed $20,751. By the 2011-12 school year, tuition had risen to $9,517 for in-state and $22,949 for out-of-state, a nearly 34 percent increase for in-state students, and only a 9.6 percent increase for out-of-state students.
Students have mixed feelings about the tuition increase and whether VCU deserves to be on the Kiplinger list. Hung Tran, a junior health preparations major, said he thinks the cost is worth the education he is receiving, but does not believe VCU deserves to be recognized in the top 100.
“Overall, I don’t think that VCU should make the list. In terms of academics, I know there are several classes that tend to have bad reputations because many people fail or drop out the first time they take it,” Tran said in an email. “But honestly, I don’t think the ratings matter. I think that education is only costly if you don’t put the right amount of time and effort into what you’re studying.”
Likewise, junior criminal justice major Kyle Oppenheim said he thinks the cost is worth the education he is receiving. Oppenheim, who recently transferred from Northern Virginia Community College, said he thinks schools should not be ranked because some have different specialities than others.
“While a school may have a great music department, their biology department may not be as good as one at another school,” Oppenheim said. “Personally, I would be willing to pay a little more for a department that I know I will be studying in, regardless of the overall rating of the school.”