Although pricey Caltech took top honors, the nation's best college values for the most part lie beyond the ivy-covered walls of Harvard, Yale and Princeton at more humble surroundings such as the College of New Jersey, according to a survey of best college deals.
Others such as the New College of the University of South Florida and Spelman College of Georgia pepper the top 10 of Money magazine's annual list of top college buys.
The financial magazine compiled 16 measures of educational quality for more than 1,000 schools--such as student-faculty ratio and entrance exam scores--and compared them with tuition and fees. The list appears in the magazine's September issue.
According to a government report released Thursday, tuition at four-year, public colleges over the last 14 years has increased nearly three times as fast as household income and more than three times the rate of consumer price inflation.
The General Accounting Office said in a report requested by 23 members of Congress that college tuitions on average jumped 234% between the 1980-'81 and 1994-'95 school years.
That compares with an 82% increase in median household income over the same period and a 74% increase in the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index.
In Money's survey, California Institute of Technology leads the list this year despite its hefty $18,216 annual tuition. The school spends more than any other U.S. college on instruction--an average of $46,613 for each of its 923 students. Caltech also boasts a 3-1 student-teacher ratio.
New College, a liberal arts school with only 600 undergraduates in Sarasota, Fla., fell to second after topping the list three straight years. The school charges just $8,500 for out-of-state students and $2,066 for Floridians.
Texas' Rice University is third in the rankings, followed by Missouri's Truman State University. College of New Jersey, which recently changed its name from Trenton State University to improve its image, is No. 5.
Rounding out the top 10 are: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Spelman, a predominantly black women's college; University of Texas-Austin; State University of New York at Binghamton; and St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Conspicuously low on the list, considering their lofty reputations, are: Yale, 25; Harvard, 70; and Stanford, 78.
"It's a very difficult thing to assess costs and value in higher education," said Alex Huppe, Harvard's director of public affairs. "We have to look at how satisfied students are after they graduate. Students from Harvard have always expressed enormous satisfaction."
Harvard, like the other Ivy League schools, had strong ratings for educational quality but was hurt by its $21,901 annual tuition and fees.
In a separate poll conducted for the issue, Money reported that 26% of parents with college-bound children in high school have not saved any money for their kids' higher education. The poll, conducted by ICR Survey Research Group, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The average amount saved by the 1,062 families questioned was $11,000--roughly 13% of today's average cost for four years of college tuition, fees and room and board.
And if things aren't gloomy enough, financial planning firm College Money estimates that by the year 2014, four years at an Ivy League university will cost about $460,000.