In the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, Loyola University Chicago jumped 16 places to number 101. But Loyola students may have noticed something odd about the newest ratings: Loyola is on the “best value” list, but also is high among schools whose students graduate with the most debt.
The reasoning is based on the number of students who are given need-based financial aid.
Loyola “admits many more needy students than other universities do,” according to John Pelissero, provost at LUC. About 73 percent of full-time undergraduates at LUC receive need-based financial aid. At DePaul University, 69.6 percent receive aid, and at Marquette University, 60.4 receive aid, according to U.S. News data.
What does this mean for Loyola?
Need-based aid, such as Federal Pell Grants, may cover much of the cost of a college education, but it usually is not enough to fund a student’s entire undergraduate career. After receiving need-based financial aid, a student will still have, on average, 25 to 30 percent of their tuition not covered by grants, according to Pelissero. This 25 to 30 percent gap is where the students gain a majority of debt, and the university, in turn, ends up on the “most debt” list.
Of Loyola’s 9,000 undergraduates, about 2,200 students are receiving Pell Grants, Pelissero said. The university has more Pell Grant students than any other of the 28 Jesuit universities in the United States, he said.
Loyola was also on the list of “great schools at great prices,” coming in at No. 44. After learning that students may graduate with the most debt, it may be hard to understand how Loyola is also a good value.
Even a school that has high tuition may end up on the “best value” list, according to Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News. In Loyola’s case, the university is giving need-based aid to a relatively large number of students, even more than schools such as Marquette and DePaul.
The concept behind the ratings is that people who are getting need-based financial aid are getting a relatively good deal, not necessarily that the cost of going to that university is cheap.
“A best value doesn’t mean that the school is at the Costco price level,” Morse explained. “It just means that for the people who are on need-based aid relative to the total price, it’s a relative[ly] good value.”
“At Harvard, the price is still $16,000, even on financial aid. Is $16,000 cheap or just [a relatively] good buy because Harvard is top brand?” he added.
There are specific points a university can focus on in order to improve its rankings, according to Morse. To score higher on the best value list, a school should have generous grants given to high percent of students who qualify for need-based aid. In the overall rankings, a school must retain a higher percent of its students and have a higher graduation rate than what that school is currently doing.
Pelissero said Loyola does not create new policies in order to improve its rankings, but rather focuses on how to improve the learning environment.
However, some of Loyola’s measures to create a better learning environment also may inadvertently help the school’s ratings.
In the past five years, there has been a jump in the number of full-time faculty from 60 to 70 percent, the student to teacher ratio has fallen from 15:1 to 14:1 and there have been changes in graduation requirements, Pelissero said. Because of these measures, graduation and retention rates are increasing.
“If these [measures] improve the rankings, then so be it, but we don’t try to respond to rankings in terms of policy,” Pelissero said. “However, I’m proud of how we generally come across in rankings.”
To read what The Rev. Michael J. Garanzini S.J, president of the university, had to say about last year’s ranking, click here.