Weighing the Efficiency of Highly Ranked Universities

Efficient colleges spent the least per student, by point of their overall U.S. News score.

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Florida State University finished first and Ohio's Miami University—Oxford placed second in the National Universities category of an exclusive U.S. News list of most efficient schools. These schools were able to produce the highest educational quality, as determined by their place in the 2014 Best Colleges rankings, but spend relatively less on educational programs to achieve that quality.

U.S. News has analyzed efficiency for a second time as both public and private universities continue to face tight budgets – a result of reduced state appropriations and growing consumer resistance to higher tuition. That means it's imperative for many colleges to spend their limited resources efficiently in order to produce the highest possible educational quality. 

U.S. News measures a school's financial resources by taking into account how much it spends per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures. Financial resources have a 10 percent weight in the Best Colleges ranking methodology. 

U.S. News defines operating efficiency for this list as a school's 2012 fiscal year financial resources per student divided by its overall score – the basis U.S. News uses to determine its overall numerical rank – in the 2014 Best Colleges rankings. This calculation reveals how much each school is spending to achieve one point in the overall score and its position in the rankings. 

The less a school is spending relative to its rank, the more efficient it is at producing a quality education among its peers. In order to appear on the list, schools had to be numerically ranked in the top half of their U.S. News ranking category in the Best Colleges 2014 rankings. 

This means the colleges and universities on the list are doing a very good job at producing a top ranking for academic quality while carefully spending their available financial resources, as measured relative to other schools that may have greater sources of funding from states, tuition or endowments. Since many of the colleges on the list are public universities, they are likely to be more affordable in terms of tuition relative to others in their ranking category. 

The tables below show the colleges in all 10 U.S. News ranking categories that scored highest in operating efficiency and still achieved a top rank. Colleges are listed according to their U.S. News ranking category in ascending order, based on how much they spent per student to achieve their 2014 Best Colleges overall score, using the fiscal year 2012 financial resources per student spending submitted to U.S. News in our 2013 annual survey. Also listed is their 2014 Best Colleges financial resources rank. 

Note: A school's overall rank is partly based on a two-year average of expenditures per student; the financial resources figures per U.S. News overall score point displayed below reflect only the most recent year.

National Universities

School name (state) U.S. News National Universities rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Florida State University 91 211 $355.32
Miami University—Oxford (OH) 75 192 $374.64
Brigham Young University—Provo (UT) 62 174 $377.83
University of Alabama 86 186 $387.96
College of William and Mary (VA) 32 114 $411.48
Colorado School of Mines 91 174 $434.26
Clemson University (SC) 62 137 $441.10
Binghamton University—SUNY 97 168 $446.59
Indiana University—Bloomington 75 154 $446.60
University of Missouri 97 168 $457.35
Ohio University 135 201 $475.61
Texas Christian University 82 144 $476.83
University of Georgia 60 119 $476.98
University of South Carolina 112 174 $478.78
Clark University (MA) 75 137 $484.98
Virginia Tech 69 119 $494.04
University of Oregon 109 162 $497.30
DePaul University (IL) 121 182 $500.60
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (MA) 62 108 $508.69
University of St. Thomas (MN) 112 154 $510.93

National Liberal Arts Colleges 

School name (state) U.S. News National Liberal Arts Colleges rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Hope College (MI) 100 174 $388.93
College of St. Benedict (MN) 94 165 $401.32
Cornell College (IA) 97 160 $411.98
Augustana College (IL) 100 160 $422.91
Westminster College (PA) 115 174 $427.49
St. Olaf College (MN) 52 101 $436.04
Luther College (IA) 94 143 $436.98
Coe College (IA) 120 171 $441.06
Rhodes College (TN) 54 91 $446.27
St. Michael's College (VT) 89 129 $447.34

Regional Universities (South)  

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Universities (South) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Appalachian State University (NC) 9 70 $161.58
James Madison University (VA) 6 59 $166.83
William Carey University (MS) 36 120 $170.04
University of North Carolina—Wilmington 15 57 $185.94
University of Mary Washington (VA) 13 59 $186.32

Regional Universities (North) 

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Universities (North) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Salisbury University (MD) 66 180 $240.06
SUNY—Geneseo 15 136 $240.36
Towson University (MD) 54 176 $261.45
Marist College (NY) 10 63 $278.73
University of Scranton (PA) 8 67 $281.80

Regional Universities (West) 

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Universities (West) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Western Washington University 22 82 $211.86
California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo 9 49 $216.89
California State University—Long Beach 32 97 $233.73
California State Polytechnic University—Pomona 33 85 $249.79
California State University—Fullerton 35 89 $252.04

Regional Universities (Midwest) 

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Universities (Midwest) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Truman State University (MO) 10 102 $172.07
University of Wisconsin—La Crosse 26 111 $186.63
University of Wisconsin—Whitewater 42 120 $201.00
University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire 30 102 $205.20
University of Nebraska—Kearney 48 108 $226.58

Regional Colleges (South) 

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Colleges (South) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Anderson University (SC) 20 77 $160.99
Flagler College (FL) 8 59 $161.29
North Greenville University (SC) 30 90 $171.38
Concord University (WV) 47 95 $175.27
Asbury University (KY) 4 30 $177.64

Regional Colleges (North) 

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Colleges (North) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Messiah College (PA) 5 12 $338.17
Lebanon Valley College (PA) 6 17 $344.63
College of Our Lady of the Elms (MA) 17 44 $350.86
SUNY College of Technology—Alfred 17 38 $375.65
Seton Hill University (PA) 12 26 $382.69

Regional Colleges (West)

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Colleges (West) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
Oregon Institute of Technology 6 16 $197.74
Oklahoma Baptist University 5 12 $202.25
Corban University (OR) 6 13 $218.53
Texas Lutheran University 3 5 $243.53
Master's College and Seminary (CA) 4 4 $243.94

Regional Colleges (Midwest)

School name (state) U.S. News Regional Colleges (Midwest) rank Financial resources rank Spending per student for each point in the U.S. News overall score
University of Minnesota—Crookston 38 74 $190.93
Benedictine College (KS) 30 70 $195.09
Grace College and Seminary (IN) 48 71 $214.24
University of Mount Union (OH) 6 25 $217.63
Bethel College (IN) 19 53 $221.45