The Best Value Public Universities In 2019

The student debt crisis has become so prevalent, news about it plays almost like a broken record. Total debt at the national level is now above $1.6 trillion. Most recently, it has been a topic in the Democrat presidential debates with progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders speaking openly about ways to reduce the burden.

One of the main reasons for the problem is the rise in college costs. Specifically, the average total cost of college per year has gone from less than $10,000 in the 1980s to above $20,000 now, according to the National Center for Education Statistics data. Meanwhile, average wages for recent college graduates have only increased by 14% from 1989 to 2019.

To help alleviate the issue, future college students and their families can look towards colleges that have relatively lower costs, good financial aid and scholarship packages, and higher salaries immediately after graduation. Kiplinger puts together data looking at just that to create a ranking of the country’s “Best Value” universities.


This year’s Best Value public university is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The state’s flagship university has a higher total cost compared to other public universities — at $47,307 — but also has some generous financial aid packages. The average need-based aid package at UNC is $17,607 and the non-need-based package is $7,924. UNC also has a relatively lower average debt at graduation at $22,214 and a decent starting salary at $55,600. Up next is the University of Florida in Gainesville. Also the state’s flagship university, Florida has a much lower total cost at $39,809 per year. The average financial aid packages are also lower for Florida, however, at $7,612 for need-based aid and $2,717 for non-need-based aid. Average debt at graduation is slightly less than UNC at $22,192 and the average starting salary is a bit higher at $56,000.

Up next is Florida State University which has one of the lowest total costs of all schools on the list at $33,349. Florida State also has a higher average need-based aid package of $10,859 and a non-need-based average aid of $4,987. What’s more, 24% of Florida State students received a non-need based aid package, which is higher than all other top schools besides Truman State University, where 59% of students receive non-need-based financial aid. After Florida State is the University of Virginia, which has one of the highest total costs of all public schools at $62,470. That total cost is off-set a bit by a generous average need-based aid of $22,129 and an average starting salary of $61,200. Rounding out the top-five is Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri. Truman State has an incredibly low total cost of $24,381 per year and an average need-based aid of $7,824 and non-need-based of $5,992. Despite the low cost and aid, Truman State grads still have the highest average debt at graduation of the other top five schools at $24,938 and a low starting salary of $44,500.

Schools from all across the nation can be found on the list. On the West Coast, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California-Los Angeles, and the University of Washington come in eighth, ninth, and 10th place, respectively. Large Midwestern schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign come in 11th and 12th.

For a searchable list of all schools, click here.

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