Is the University of Oregon the worst of the best for public education value?

Construction for the brand new Lewis Integrative Science Building is nearing completion. The media were given a preview of the facility on Oct. 23. (Ryan Kang/Freelance)

Construction for the brand new Lewis Integrative Science Building is nearing completion. The media were given a preview of the facility on Oct. 23. (Ryan Kang/Freelance)

Posted by Dashiell Paulson on Monday, Jan. 7 at 8:21 am.

The University of Oregon enters the new year with a dubious distinction. In a list of the 100 best values in public education for 2013, the UO ranks 98th for in-state students and 99th for out-of-state students. Is this progress or a problem for the University?

The schools on the list are considered by the list’s organizers, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, to be the 100 best public universities in the nation for college students to invest their time and money. More than 600 state schools were considered in the study, according to a Kiplinger’s spokesperson, Jessica Weeg. Even if Oregon ranks near the bottom, the UO still beats out those other 500 and every other Oregon school considered. Weeg believed the UO should see the ranking as an accomplishment.

The annual list ranks educational value of public universities for money spent and debt accrued. Kiplinger’s considers the university’s sticker price, financial aid, admissions rates, graduation rates and average debt a burden. Though the UO surely earns kudos for making the list, the ranking emphasizes how far the University has to go to compete with its West Coast peers.

Twelve California and two Washington universities are ranked on the list and earn much higher positions. Consider Oregon’s northern neighbor, the University of Washington, which lands at 17th for in-state value and 21st for out-of-state value. Western Washington University ranks 74th for residents and 70th for out-of-staters, more than 20 positions above Oregon.

It is due greatly to large student debt numbers coupled with comparatively low financial aid that place Oregon’s ranking where it is. The debt loads at Oregon are $22,736 on average, according to Kiplinger’s. Financial aid covers a quarter of in-state student need and about an eighth of out-of-state student need. Only 41 percent of students graduate in four years.

Though it is a lower number than some would like, it is important that the UO has representation on this list. Several states, including Idaho, don’t even have a school in the top 100.