What makes one college a ‘best buy’ compared with others?

David Weinberg Jul 3, 2013

What makes one college a ‘best buy’ compared with others?

David Weinberg Jul 3, 2013

Today is the release of the latest “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” a book that former New York Times education editor Ted Fiske has put out for 30 years. This year the book features what it calls the 300 best and most interesting colleges.

One of the book’s categories is a list of “Best Buy Schools.” Fiske starts by looking at the tuition cost of 2,200 colleges. Then he ranks the less expensive schools based on their academic quality.

“One of the things that is important to remember is that quality and price do not necessarily go hand in hand,” says Fiske.

Some facts about Deep Springs College, a Fiske Guide “best buy”:


  • Student body size: 26
  • Founded in 1917 by Lucien L. Nunn a “pioneering leader in the hydroelectric power industry”.
  • Located on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in the California High Desert.
  • Length of program: 2 years
  • Students are required to work 20 hours a week doing manual labor on the ranch—milking cows, feeding livestock, fixing tractor engines, cooking meals.
  • Cost of tuition, room and board: $0
  • Nearest emergency medical services: 45 minute drive
  • Smoking is not allowed in any of the buildings or near the hay-bales

The price of an education has many factors — the school’s endowment, its ability to subsidize students and even its marketing strategy.

“There have been examples of colleges that raise their prices not because they had to, but because they wanted to be seen as more expensive and hence better academically.” Fiske says. This year there are 41 schools on the Best Buy list.

Myra Smith, who works at the non-profit College Board, says it’s important to look beyond just tuition costs.

“If you go to a school that isn’t the right place for you and you don’t stay, you’ve probably lost a lot of your investment,” she says.

Any handpicked list of colleges is really just a starting point for finding that right school. One data-rich resource is the College Affordability and Transparency Center.


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