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Houston's Rice University--which has one faculty member for every nine studenst--tops Money Magazine's survey of America's 100 best college buys.

The magazine's third annual Money Guide says Rice's $1.25 billion endowment, the fifth largest per student in U.S. higher education in 1991, and its $8,825 tuition , kept it No. 1 on the list for the second year in a row.The cost of an education is becoming a bigger factor for students deciding where to attend school, Money says. Last year, 28 percent of college freshmen said low tuition wa an important reason for choosing a school, up from 21 percent four years ago, according to the magazine.

Rice's strong programs in architecture, business, engineering and science also made it stand out as one of America's best education bargains, according to the guide, which goes on sale Monday.

Cotton baron William Marsh Rice founded the school in 1891, aiming to provide excellent education at low cost. Rice charged no tuition until 1964.

Even though last year 28 students were caught cheating on a science test, the school keeps an honor code that lets students take unsupervised exams.

In the scandal's wake, some students urged that the system be revised. Administrators say they won't change it but will increase student awareness.

Nearly 60 percent of Rice alumni enter graduate school within a year of graduation, more than double the national average, Money said. The magazine said the figure indicates students may find Rice inspirational, not mentioning that students may be increasingly waiting out the weak job market.

New College of the University of South Florida, the second-best buy in Money's survey, gives Florida residents in education for $1,855 a year, while charging out-of-staters, who represent 48 percent of the student body, $7,566.

The only grades for students at New College are satisfactory or unsatisfactory with detailed written evaluations by professors. Attendance is not mandatory. To graduate from New College, students must complete three study projects, write a senior thesis and pass an oral baccalaureate exam

Also noted in the guide to colleges but not included in the value rankings are eight schools that charge no tuition, including engineering-focused Cooper union, in Manhattan's East Village.

In ranking the schools, Money used 16 factors, including student-to-faculty ratio, average Scholastic aptitude Tests, default rate on student loans, graduation rate, student services budgets, and alumni business success, based on Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors and Executives.

The other schools in this year's top 10 best buys were: University of Washington: Hanover College; California Institute of Technology; Trenton State College; Georgia Institute of Technology; Rutgers College; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and New Mexico Tech.