URBANA — The University of Illinois significantly improved its standing in a national ranking of best college values, partly because of a change in how schools are evaluated.
The Urbana campus also benefited from improved test scores and graduation rates, according to editors at Kiplinger's Personal Finance.
The campus jumped 18 spots, from 45th to 27th, on Kiplinger's 2011-12 "Best Values in Public Colleges" released Tuesday. For out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition, the UI ranked 25th.
The UI Springfield also cracked the top 100 for the first time, weighing in at No. 85 (71 for out-of-state students). No other Illinois schools ranked among the top 100.
Topping the national list again is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has held that spot since Kiplinger's first analysis in 1998. It also ranked first for out-of-state students.
"Despite the fact that college costs are rising consistently throughout the country, there are schools that are offering really good values," senior associate editor Marc Wojno said.
The rankings emphasize quality and affordability, but this year Kiplinger's gave more weight to academic value, such as the percentage of students who return for their sophomore year and the four-year graduation rate.
State schools have been "feeling the pain" of the recession in recent years, Wojno said. State appropriations have been cut and federal stimulus money has "all but evaporated," even as enrollment increases, the demand for financial aid remains high and tuition continues to rise.
As a result, the magazine also looked more closely at financial aid and student borrowing.
"We had a lot of schools that shifted around," he said.
Two key factors for the UI were the 90 percent of incoming freshmen who scored 24 or higher on the ACT, and the four-year graduation rate of 67 percent, up from 64 percent the previous year.
"That's pretty admirable," Wojno said.
Academic data were based on the 2010-11 school year; financial information is current.
About 51 percent of UI students took out college loans, significantly more than the 31 percent at North Carolina — but far less than the high of 86 percent at one New York campus.
A release from Kiplinger's said the cost of private colleges averages almost $39,000 a year, more than twice the average $17,000 in-state sticker price for public schools.
At the UI, total costs average $25,694 for Illinois residents, but just $14,809 after financial aid is factored in. For nonresidents, total costs are $39,836, or $28,951 after financial aid.
The UI ranked third among Big Ten public schools, trailing only Wisconsin-Madison (13th for in-state and 11th for out-of-state students) and Michigan-Ann Arbor (16th in-state and 24th out-of-state).
"In general, I think we are a good value. When you think about value, it's not just cost. What do you get when you invest?" UI Associate Chancellor Robin Kaler said.
The UI adopted a policy last year to peg tuition increases to inflation. This year's rates for incoming freshmen rose by 6.9 percent, or the equivalent of about 2.7 percent a year under the state's four-year guaranteed tuition law.
General tuition is $11,104 a year for freshmen, though many students pay higher surcharges for specific programs.
About half of all UI students receive some financial aid, and officials hope to maintain or increase that.
The UI Springfield also benefited from Kiplinger's reweighted criteria, as well as a relatively low student-faculty ratio of 14-to-1, Wojno said.
"It obviously indicates students have more time with teachers in one-on-one academic study. And it is less expensive," Wojno said.
Illinois residents pay $8,670 on average a year for undergraduate tuition at the Springfield campus, and nearly 70 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. The "sticker price" for in-state residents is $19,702, or $11,489 after financial aid. The freshmen retention rate is 76 percent.
Susan Koch, vice president and chancellor of the UI Springfield, said students get a UI degree at an affordable cost "while at the same time experiencing the intimate learning environment that is the hallmark of the UIS experience."
The annual rankings appear in Kiplinger's February 2012 issue and online at http://www.kiplinger.com/links/college.
A detailed comparison of the top 100 schools is available at: http://www.kiplinger.com/tools/colleges.
Here's how the Big 10 fared:
School In-state Out-of-stateUniversity of Wisconsin1311University of Michigan 1624University of Illinois-Urbana 2725Ohio State University 3740Indiana University 4065University of Iowa 4766Michigan State University4961Penn State University 5147University of Minnesota 5420Purdue University 6076University of Nebraska 6882