From USA Today comes news that the Princeton Review has published its annual list of best value colleges. Topping the list are the University of Virginia (for public schools) and Swarthmore College (for private schools).

Wait, what? Out-of-state tuition at UVA is $31,680. Tuition at Swarthmore is $37,860. While these aren’t the most expensive school s in America, almost 40K a year isn’t cheap and it’s certainly not what most people would call value.

That’s because value in the Princeton Review sense doesn’t really have much do to with cost. From the article:

The Princeton Review selected the schools based on surveys of administrators and students at more than 650 public and private college and university campuses.

Overall selection criteria included more than 30 factors in three areas: academics, costs and financial aid. Academic ratings were based on student surveys about such issues as professors’ accessibility and class sizes, as well as institutional reports about student-faculty ratios and percent of classes taught by teaching assistants.

“Academics, cost, and financial aid.” This means that value is largely based on scholarships given. This is a point that College Guide, too, has made before: there’s a big difference between the sticker price of college and what families have to pay.

The thing with the large scholarships and high cost model of higher education pricing is that it allows colleges to obscure true costs by giving out large, though basically arbitrary, grants to students. That’s great for the students with scholarships but allows college costs to continue to rise unchecked.

Maybe it’s time to figure out real value. Are there any schools out there that are actually cheap?

Daniel Luzer

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