Virginia tops the 2018 list of best states for a higher education, according to a new ranking from SmartAsset, which analyzes U.S. public institutions to determine which offer the best value based on a variety of metrics.
The analysis compares states using five factors:
Undergraduate graduation rate: Data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Data is for the 2015-2016 school year.
Average net price: This metric considers the average yearly price for first-time, full-time undergraduate students. Data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and is for the 2015-2016 school year.
Student-faculty ratio: This metric also comes from the IPEDS data center. It’s from the 2016-2017 school year.
Twenty-year return on investment: This is the difference between 20 years of median pay for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree minus the costs for attending the higher education institution for four years and 24 years of median pay for a high school graduate. Data comes from Payscale.
In-state attendance rate: This is the percentage of students who graduated from high school in 2015 who went on to attend an in-state college. Data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.
Overall, no one state or area dominates more than another, according to the ranking results.
The ranking cites Census Bureau data from 2016, which indicates the average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns $51,600 per year—roughly $22,000 more than the average worker with a high school diploma earns and $30,000 more than a worker without a high school diploma earns.
But attending an institution of higher education is expensive. From 2006 to 2016, the cost of college tuition and fees increased by 63 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many students take on massive amounts of student loan debt in order to earn a diploma. And when education is expensive, students want to make sure they get the best value for their money.
Virginia is ranked first based on its 71 percent graduate rate and great long-term value for students. Data shows that schools in Virginia offer a 20-year average return on investment of $417,711. The state does rank toward the bottom when it comes to average net price for college attendance.
California takes the No. 2 spot based on its 20-year return on investment and low average net price. The ranking notes the state does have a high student-to-faculty ratio.
Ranked third, Wyoming boasts a 62 percent high school graduate higher-ed attendance rate and low student-to-faculty ratios.
Iowa, ranked fourth, has a 72 percent public college graduation rate and a $369,400 20-year return on investment for graduates.
Fifth-ranked North Carolina boasts some of the best community colleges in the country, according to the ranking. The state’s public colleges are fairly affordable and boasts an average graduation rate of just less than 61 percent.
Rounding out the top 10 are Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Michigan.