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Generous Financial Aid Cuts Costs

For prospective college students and their parents, the deck can sometimes seem stacked against them. Published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities over the past decade have increased at an average annual rate of 5.6 percent beyond the rate of inflation, the highest increase of the past three decades, according to the College Board. At private schools, costs can easily top $200,000 for a four-year degree. College seniors graduating in 2009 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, according to the Project on Student Debt, even as the job market for new graduates was making it impossible for many to make the first payment.

It doesn't have to be that way. In the slides that follow, you'll find 50 colleges and universities where a typical financial aid recipient can get a bachelor's degree for an average cost of less than $74,000 (no school will set you back more than $100,000). And every school boasts a 30-year return on investment that is well above average. How much above average? Well, graduates of all 50 schools in this slide show averaged a 30-year ROI of 147 percent to 324 percent of the national average, with the No. 1 school topping out above $2 million. They're affordable thanks to generous financial aid packages that on average cover about half of the degree's "sticker price."

Some of the names on the list will surprise you. They include everything from big state schools to elite research universities, and even a few members of the Ivy League. There are schools from 20 states, with 10 schools from California making the list, including five from the UC system alone. It helps if you have your sights set on a career in engineering, as many of the schools specialize in that discipline, but liberal arts schools also make a showing. And there are a few schools you might never have heard of.

For the complete ranking of all 693 schools, check out our interactive table. For a more detailed description of the methodology and findings, see, "College ROI: What We Found."

Note: This ranking was created in conjunction with PayScale, which ranked 693 schools on 30-year ROI for Bloomberg Businessweek, using pay data it collects from individuals who employ its online pay comparison tools. To rank the schools in this slide show, Bloomberg Businessweek chose schools with the best ROI that met these criteria: net costs below $100,000; larger than average financial aid awards relative to total costs; larger than average distribution of financial aid awards; and graduation rates above 57 percent, the average for all schools in the study. In the slides that follow, Undergraduates Receiving Aid is the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates at each institution receiving local, state, federal, or institutional grant aid in the 2008-09 academic year. Total Cost is tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies for the average length of time required to obtain a bachelor's degree at each school. Net Cost is the same figure minus grant aid for the same period. Median Pay is for all alumni who graduated from 1981 to 2010 who reported 2010 compensation to PayScale. The 30-Year Net Return on Investment for Graduates represents the average earnings of a graduate (in excess of those of a high school graduate) after deducting the net cost of the degree. It assumes a 100 percent graduation rate. Annual Cost is for the 2009-10 academic year and includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies. Average Annual Aid Package is for those who received grant aid during the 2008-09 academic year. Four-Year Graduation Rate is the percentage of graduates receiving a degree within four years. Total Discount represents the portion of total costs covered by grant aid. For state schools, all cost and ROI data are for in-state students only.

Data: PayScale, Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System, College Board, Bloomberg Businessweek research
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