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U.S. News thinks highly of Utah universities

Low debt, overall quality win magazine’s praise

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Utah universities once again earned recognition for some of the lowest student debt in the nation, while also earning spots for best overall universities in the 2007 U.S. News & World Report rankings.

The rankings will be published in the Aug. 28 issue of U.S. News & World Report, which hits newsstands Monday and ranks about 1,400 four-year accredited colleges and universities by mission and region.

BYU ranked 70th on the list of best national universities, up one slot from last year, while the U. remained 120th. BYU, Utah and Utah State fall in the category of national universities, which includes schools that offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master's and doctoral degrees.

Salt Lake's Westminster College also earned a No. 20 spot for Western schools offering master's degrees but not doctoral programs.

Princeton took the top spot in this year's rankings, finally breaking a three-year tie for first place with Harvard. Yale took the No. 3 spot.

The formula for the rankings includes graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater. The biggest single variable is a reputation assessment by peer institutions.

Four of Utah's institutions made the list for lowest debt burden among graduates with Utah Valley State College in Orem ranking first in least debt among comprehensive colleges in the West.

According to the magazine, only 54 percent of UVSC graduates have debt. The average debt at UVSC is $9,046.

"I do know our tuition is significantly lower than the national average, so that may have something to do with it," college spokeswoman Megan Laurie said. "You know, I think there are a lot of different factors that play into it, from the fact that the kids in Utah are raised to think fiscally responsibly. But I do believe our scholarship and financial aid office does a lot to help students get grants and federal student aid."

A report released Tuesday by the Utah System of Higher Education indicated that as UVSC transitions from a college to a university, tuition will increase by an estimated total of $10 million. Higher education commissioner Richard Kendell said he expects the Legislature to shoulder most of the cost, not students.

Utah State University also earned a seventh-place spot for least loan debt, and the U. came in 11th with 45 percent of students graduating with debt with an average burden of $12,806.

The report also ranked the U. among the nation's best business schools, with the David Eccles School of Business climbing three sports from last year to 60th in the nation. The U.'s College of Engineering also came in at No. 60 for similar colleges.

The U. was also one of 25 schools highlighted by the magazine for its service learning curriculum, which emphasizes volunteer work as part of a program of study.

"We are fortunate to have faculty who value service-learning as a teaching and learning tool as well as community agencies that provide real-world learning opportunities to our students," said Marshall Welch, director of the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center.

BYU also ranked 12th nationally in least debt with just 35 percent of BYU students graduating with debt, and those who do averaging $12,995.

"This is something that we take very seriously at BYU," Jenkins said. "We even provide a program for our students that they can analyze their financial situation and determine if it is wise for them to go into debt and how much, looking into how much they'll make when they graduate and the cost of the debt when they graduate. We want them to go into it with their eyes wide open."

The program is called "Creating a financial path to graduation," and BYU has shared it with other colleges and universities that have requested it.

BYU also made the list for its undergraduate accounting program, which ranked fifth in specialty categories, and its undergraduate business program that ranked 37th.

BYU ranked 19th on the national universities list of "Great Schools, Great Prices," joined in the top 20 by Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Duke and Brown.

"We are particularly pleased in the company we share on that list," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. "U.S. News pointed out that schools on the list must be above average academically."

In the overall rankings for comprehensive colleges, UVSC was listed between 31st and 40th in the west, while BYU-Hawaii ranked fourth, behind Linfield College in Oregon, Carroll College in Montana and Master's College and Seminary in California.

U.S. News reported that BYU-Hawaii has the lowest acceptance rate of all comprehensive colleges in the West. Only 11 percent of applicants are accepted.

Contributing: Laura Hancock

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com; estewart@desnews.com