By Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

Western Washington University was ranked 54th out of more than 500 public universities in a study determining which schools deliver the most affordable prices to their students while still maintaining strong academic standards.

The study will be released in the February issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, a financial magazine that regularly gives information and guidance on paying for college.

“Western offers a top-quality education at an affordable cost due to our fine faculty and staff, whose exceptional efforts have created a supportive and collaborative learning environment,” Western President Bruce Shepard said in a Jan. 4 press release. “Western unlocks doors to brighter futures, which is even more critically important in the midst of this very difficult economy.”

Director of Financial Aid Clara Capron said one-third of the magazine’s scoring system was based on cost and financial aid and the other two-thirds were based on academic quality. She said her department was very happy to hear of the results.

“We’re thrilled that we ranked 54th,” Capron said.

The study measured universities on a number of criteria, including academic quality (determined by looking at students’ SAT or ACT scores), admission and retention rates, student to faculty ratios and graduation rates.
The study found the following for Western:

• There are 19 students for every faculty member.

• There is a 34 percent four-year graduation rate and a 69 percent six-year rate.

• The average total tuition for a student that lives in-state totals $15,572. With financial aid, that amount drops to $8,428.

For an out-of-state student the average is $26,603, which falls to $19,459 after financial aid.

The average debt for a student after graduation is $15,560.

Two other Washington state schools made the top 100 in the study. Washington State University ranked 95th and the University of Washington ranked seventh.

Data for the study was provided by Peterson’s, a company that collects comprehensive information on colleges and universities.

Capron said Western has always tried to provide students with financial aid services that cater to individual needs.
She said her department regularly increases aid offers to students with extenuating circumstances that require more financial help. According to Capron, requests for the Financial Aid Department to recalculate the amount of money a student will receive have increased nearly 30 percent over the past year.

In addition, the university has seen a 15 percent rise in the number of federal student aid requests compared to last year, Capron said.

She said the high ranking not only reflected well on the university, but also on students, who, Capron said, strive to keep their debt levels to a minimum.

Students have also consistently made their loan payments on time, allowing Western to have a current federal loan default rate of 1.3 percent, which is below the national average of 6.7 percent, Capron said.

Western’s default rate is the second lowest compared to other public universities in the state, according to Capron. Only the University of Washington has a lower rate, at 1.1 percent.

Paul Cocke, director of University Communications, said in an e-mail that Western offers outstanding value and a first-class education, which is especially important with so many students and their families struggling in this economy.

In the midst of potential budget cuts and rising tuition rates, the focus now turns to how Western can maintain a high academic standard while keeping the cost affordable.

Capron said her department will continue to provide individualized financial aid to students. They will also keep working with the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board to secure as much funding as they can.

“We need to continue to aggressively seek out financial aid funding for students,” Capron said.