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Colleges with the best value? New rankings upend conventional wisdom (+video)

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In fact, the lists that Washington Monthly released this week include rankings of the best "bang for your buck" schools – ones that combine better-than-expected graduation rates with an affordable price.

To even rank, schools had to have a student body with at least 20 percent receiving Pell Grants (offered to low-income students); have a graduation rate of at least 50 percent, meeting or exceeding the graduation rate that would be predicted based on the composition of the student body; and have a loan default rate among graduates of 10 percent or less.

Out of 1,572 colleges and universities in the broader rankings, just 349 made the bang-for-the-buck rankings. No. 1: Amherst College in Massachusetts, followed by Queens College, CUNY (City University of New York); Baruch College (CUNY) in New York; California State University in Fullerton; and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

This is a measure "that ought to be of great interest to the vast majority of students going to college but not going to the Ivy League," says Kevin Carey, director of the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program in Washington, who was the guest editor for the rankings. "Where do I have a good chance of graduating and won’t break the bank?"

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