Eight universities in California’s higher education system appeared on Kiplinger’s annual Top Affordable Public Colleges List, which has ranked schools in the U.S. since 1998.
UC Davis ranked 41 after UC Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine.
Colleges were ranked based on a two-tiered scale, where schools were first chosen based on academic quality, and then ranked according to cost and financial aid. In the ranking, academic quality carried two-thirds of the total weight. The various levels of financial aid comprised the remainder.
However, the ranking has come as a surprise to many who protested against the 32 percent fee increases. Affordability remains a concern for students who are increasingly dependent on financial aid for college.
Sixty-five percent of undergraduates received some form of financial aid in the 2008-2009 academic year, totaling over $350 million for 22,000 students. In comparison, two years before, less than $300 million was distributed to 21,000 students, according to Trina Wiggins, associate director of operations for the financial aid office.
Yet the cost of tuition is not the factor considered in Kiplinger’s study, said Kelly Ratliff, Associate Vice Chancellor of the Budget and Institutional Analysis office.
She added that despite the favorable ranking, the California university system is “slipping” from its traditional position as a leader among public schools in the nation.
“The state needs to change course and make education a priority,” Ratliff said. “We’ve been on pretty steep [cost] curves…and it’s just not tenable.”
Professor Joshua Clover called the list irrelevant and insulting to students who find the costs of attending a school like Davis too high to manage.
“Suppose I have 100 bucks for a bicycle and my local shop raises the price of bikes to $150,” Clover said. “Now suppose all the other bike shops in the country raise their bike prices to $200. [The local] shop is surely the best value – but I still can’t afford a bike.”
Clover questioned Kiplinger’s ranking system, pointing out the incongruity between Davis’s ranking and the difficulty many low and middle-income families face in paying tuition.
“Do we feel okay about treating education as a commodity rather than a social good?” Clover asked. “For students increasingly priced out of the UC system, [the ranking] is a slap in the face.”
For the complete list of colleges ranked in Kiplinger’s study, visit kiplinger.com/tools/colleges.
BRIAN GERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.