For N.J.’s smaller colleges, ‘Best Value’ ranking can be strong selling point

It may come as no shock that Princeton University ranked No. 1 on Money magazine’s 2018 Best Colleges list, what with nearly every student with financial need receiving enough aid to bring total costs down from $67,700 to an average of $19,000.

It may be surprising, however, to see institutions such as Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah (ranked No. 113 overall) and The College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown (ranked No. 193) compete right alongside the Ivy League school in terms of the best quality of education, affordability and alumni success New Jersey colleges and universities can offer.

“The quality of education at our college, and generally in the state of New Jersey, is quite high,” Peter Philip Mercer, president of Ramapo College, said. “To excel by contrast with one’s colleagues is very meaningful here.”

Money magazine analyzed graduation rates, tuition charges, financial aid eligibility, alumni earnings and 22 other data points to find the nation’s top values for colleges and universities with at least 500 students.

Out of 727 institutions, 21 New Jersey schools made the list.

Several of the usual suspects, including The College of New Jersey (ranked No. 35 overall), Rutgers University (ranked No. 65), Stevens Institute of Technology (ranked No. 153), Montclair State University (ranked No. 164), and New Jersey Institute of Technology (ranked No. 199) joined Princeton in the Top 10 schools for New Jersey.

But the schools lesser-known to those especially outside of New Jersey, including Rowan University (ranked No. 182) and Stockton University (ranked No. 218), also plan to use their Top 10 ranking to better capture the attention of prospective students and their parents.

“We will inform and remind our alumni, current and prospective students of this designation and leverage it to further share the opportunities available at the college,” Helen J. Streubert, president of the College of Saint Elizabeth, said. “We are proud of our placement on the list because (not only does it) underscore our core values of integrity, social responsibility, leadership and excellence, but also our belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to earn a college degree that is both affordable and beneficial for career advancement.”

Total costs can reach nearly $53,300 each year at the College of Saint Elizabeth, but, like Princeton, many students are able to reduce their costs to nearly $19,400 via financial aid.

“Attending college is a significant family investment,” Robert Heinrich, chief enrollment officer at Stockton University, said. “Rankings can help families feel more secure in knowing they are making a good choice, and we are always proud to be included.”

Total costs near $31,000 each year at Stockton University, but nearly 60 percent of students attend at an average yearly cost of $15,400.

“Even though the economy has swung back after the recession, it is still fresh in people’s minds,” Jose Cardona, vice president of university relations at Rowan University, said. “They are now looking at the cost and value of college more than ever.

“That is why the president, Ali A. Houshmand, has been very vocal about never raising tuition beyond the rate of inflation for the duration of his tenure.”

Costs are nearly $31,800 each year at Rowan University, but more than half of its students can reduce their costs to $19,400 per year.

“We work hard to keep our tuition and fee increases down and in the state of New Jersey over the last five years, we have had a lower cumulative tuition and fee increase than many other schools in the state,” Mercer said.

The total cost is nearly $31,600 each year at the Ramapo College, but nearly half of its students can reduce their costs to $16,800 per year while also attending an institution with higher than average graduation and alumni success rates.

“When you couple our reduced cost with an expectation that upon graduation our student will find a good job, that is a positive double-whammy for us,” Mercer said.

The ranking also helps to reaffirm alumni of the value of their degree, Heinrich said.

“Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman often says that he wants the value of a Stockton degree to grow every year, and that value includes alumni satisfaction and success,” he said.

All in all, Cardona said that, while the ranking may not be the definitive deciding factor for prospective students and their families, it certainly does help to get their attention.

“Then, once they look at us and see what we have to offer, it becomes just one more indicator of the quality of our school,” he said.

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