Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine’s December issue rates American colleges to come up with a list of the top 100 schools for education value. While there are no big surprises here (the Kiplinger measure of school quality is based on familiar things including admission rate, SAT scores, students-faculty ratio, and graduation rate) the Kiplinger article looks decisively at financial aid:

Think you earn too much to qualify for financial aid? You might be pleasantly surprised. In recent years, most top-tier colleges and universities have extended financial aid almost exclusively to students with need. A few of the top 20 institutions in our rankings, however, bestow merit money to a significant percentage of students.

Call it the difference between the sticker price and the actual checks families write to schools. Kiplinger takes the innovative step of trying to figure out what tuition really is, after accounting for need-based financial aid.

Yale University, for instance, is at $48,450 a year a breathtakingly expensive school. But after accounting for financial aid given, the annual price of the school for many students (or their parents) falls to the reasonably affordable $12,747.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer