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Money Magazine Ranks Penn State 177th on 'Best Colleges for Your Money'

by on August 01, 2014 6:15 AM

Money magazine recently released its "Best Colleges For Your Money" list, with Penn State University Park ranking 177th.

To find out which of the nation’s 1,500 four-year colleges provide the best bang for your buck, Money screened out those with a below-average graduation rate and then ranked the remaining 665.

On the Money ranking, Penn State is behind almost every school in the Big Ten. Only the University of Minnesota and University of Nebraska are rated lower than Penn State. Minnesota was ranked 183; Nebraska was ranked 223.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers says there is one area that decidedly hurts Penn State in these types of rankings. The inclusion of financial aid, particularly need-based aid, is an area where Penn State has tried to increase the available institutional funds.

"Part of the problem in these types of calculations is the large number of students we serve," Powers say. "We are proud of our accessibility, but dividing the total amount of financial aid given annually by our nearly 40,000 student body at University Park makes our per student figure of aid extraordinarily small."

Within the state, Penn State was ranked significantly higher than other colleges. Temple University was ranked 339th while the University of Pittsburgh was rated 399th.

The rankings were calculated based on quality of education, affordability and outcome. Then a statistical technique was used to turn all the data points into a single score on a five-point scale. The schools were ranked based on those scores.

The goal of the Money rankings is to give students and parents a better indication of which colleges will provide real value for their tuition dollars. The list combines pricing with estimates of likely earnings that take into account a student’s economic background, test scores and major

The "Best Colleges For Your Money" ranking comes one month after Penn State was ranked second on the national list of highest in-state tuition and required fees among four-year public colleges or universities. On the recently updated U.S. Department of Education Affordability and Transparency list, Penn State came in at second, behind the University of Pittsburgh. 

Penn State President Eric Barron has said making the university more affordable for students is one of his top priorities.

Powers says research into the affordability opportunities suggested by Barron is just getting underway.

"There have been a number of meetings of a working group charged with identifying additional opportunities, such as increased use of facilities over the summer and flexible summer tuition pricing," Powers say. "The group also is looking at  better preparation of students before they enter Penn State, as well as all along the course of their college career -- in order to improve time-to-degree performance. In addition, our World Campus is currently examining the potential for discounted courses for a low-cost summer and we are considering developing a few pilot programs to test out some of the other ideas that have merit."

For the time being, Powers says the university is conducting a lot of research and doing back-end work to determine if these ideas can be turned into tangible opportunities.

"The bottom line on this ranking, and any other rankings, is that potential students and their families need to determine their choices not just based on a magazine ranking, but by visiting an institution, weighing the pros and cons, talking with financial aid counselors from the institution and deciding if the university is a fit for them personally," Powers say. "Every student's needs are different and students won't know if they are eligible for institutional aid or whether things are within their family's budget -- unless they do the homework beyond just reading a magazine."

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Jessica Tully recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in journalism and political science. She is a frequent contributor to and has also reported for USA TODAY, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Onward State and The Daily Collegian.
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