Though Florida’s in-state tuition costs more than double what it did only a decade ago, many of the state’s public universities are still a good value, according to the latest annual “Best Values in Public Colleges” list compiled by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
Florida schools have long fared well in the magazine’s rankings, with this year being no exception. Six of Florida’s 12 state schools made the top 100, with two — the University of Florida and New College of Florida in Sarasota — keeping their place in the top 10, though both schools slipped slightly from their spots a year ago.
UF landed at No. 3 in this year’s rankings, down from No. 2 last year. New College, meanwhile, slipped two spots from No. 5 to No. 7.
In the case of both schools, Kiplinger’s praised what it described as a combination of strong academics and relative affordability. Though Florida’s price of tuition keeps rising, it is still among the lowest in the country — 40th out of 50 states, according to the College Board.
Kiplinger’s also noted UF’s strong retention rate.
“Students stick around, with only 5 percent leaving after freshman year,” the magazine wrote. “And although Florida is a big school — with 16 colleges, more than 150 research centers and institutes, and the largest undergraduate enrollment in our top 10 — it’s still selective, with a 43 percent admittance rate.”
New College is the complete opposite of UF in terms of size (it enrolls less than 850 students) but Kiplinger’s found it also offers “solid academics” along with the lowest total cost of attendance — $16,181 — of any of the top 10 schools. That figure combines the $6,783 annual tuition and fees with other college expenses such as room and board.
Lower in the Kiplinger’s rankings, four other Florida schools were also recognized. Florida State University came in at No. 26, the University of Central Florida landed at No. 42, the University of South Florida was No. 57 and the University of North Florida was No. 64.
Braulio Colón, executive director of the Florida College Access Network, said Florida families looking for a tuition bargain shouldn’t limit their search to state universities. Florida’s community colleges, Colón said, are high-quality, cost about half as much as state universities, and boast a guaranteed-transfer agreement that is the envy of many other parts of the country. Students who earn an associate in arts degree from a Florida community college are guaranteed admission to a state university, though it may not be to the student’s preferred school.
Long term, Colón said, Florida must overhaul its student financial aid system if it wants to maintain college affordability. The state’s largest college aid program is Bright Futures scholarships — some of which are awarded to affluent families who could afford to pay for college on their own. Helping students with demonstrated need must become more of a priority, Colón said, or college costs could eventually spiral out of reach for some families.
“We are at a turning point, right now, as a state,” Colón said.