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The 20 best value colleges of 2019 

Mount Holyoke College
Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College

A college degree is an investment that will last a lifetime and one of the most reliable ways to increase your lifetime earnings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Americans with a bachelor's degree have median weekly earnings of $1,173, compared to just $712 a week for those who have a high school diploma.

And some colleges are noted for providing an above average return on investment. Edward Fiske, former education editor of The New York Times and creator and author of The Fiske Guide to Colleges says defining what makes a school a good deal is no easy task.

“What college costs for one person is going to be different for another person,” Fiske tells CNBC Make It. “It depends on who you are.”

Factors such as financial need, financial aid, merit scholarships and ability to graduate on time can dramatically impact how much attending a school will cost a given student. For instance, a private college with an expensive sticker price is not always more expensive than a local public program. Students should work with schools directly in order to asses how much a given school will cost them and can ask for the "discount rate" in order to determine how much the average student actually pays to attend.

“But that said,” continues Fiske, “there are reasons that some colleges tend to be better buys than others. What we’ve done is looked for great schools that for one way or another have tried systematically to keep their costs down.”

For instance, Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) announced in 2017 that the school would be reducing tuition and fees by more than 50 percent starting in the fall of 2018.

"The marketplace spoke, and we listened," BSC President Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith tells AL.com. "Students and families are telling colleges all across the United States — and they're telling us — that encountering a high published price is a real barrier to a high-quality education."

Every year, the Fiske Guide to Colleges releases a ranking of the 10 "best-buy" public and the 10 "best-buy" private colleges.

Here are the 20 schools that came out on top for 2019:

Public colleges

University of Arizona

Location: Tucson, Arizona
Enrollment: 43,625
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $11,644
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $32,449
Description: “This university, set amid palm trees and cacti, offers generous tuition discounts to out-of-state students, and one-third of freshmen are Pell Grant recipients.”

Evergreen State College

Location: Olympia, Washington
Enrollment: 4,089
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $7,416
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $25,008
Description: “At this quirky, alternative liberal arts college in Washington State, two out of five freshmen qualify for the Pell Grant.”

University of Florida

Location: Gainesville, Florida
Enrollment: 52,367
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $6,381
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $28,658
Description: “This huge university has the lowest sticker price of any public school in the Fiske Guide, and 92 percent of students receive financial aid.”

Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories at the University of Iowa.
Getty Images
Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories at the University of Iowa.

University of Iowa

Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Enrollment: 32,011
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $8,575
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $28,813
Description: “With the lowest tuition and fees in the Big Ten, this leading public university is a bargain for athletes, artists and academic stars alike.”

New College of Florida

Location: Sarasota, Florida
Enrollment: 875
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $6,916
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $29,944
Description: “Virtually all students admitted to this 'public Ivy' are guaranteed automatic scholarships, and out-of-staters are awarded Presidential Scholarships worth $60,000 over four years.”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Enrollment: 29,469
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $9,005
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $34,588
Description: “This public flagship, located in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, is one of only two public universities in the nation that guarantees to meet the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.”

Purdue University

Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Enrollment: 40,451
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $10,002
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $28,804
Description: “A tuition freeze has kept tuition at this STEM-oriented university steady since 2013.”

Binghamton, New York
DenisTangneyJr | Getty Images
Binghamton, New York

SUNY–Binghamton University

Location: Binghamton, New York
Enrollment: 17,292
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $9,523
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $24,403
Description: “At Binghamton — as at all two-and four-year schools in the SUNY system — in-state students from families earning $110,000 or less are eligible for free tuition.”

Texas A&M University

Location: College Station, Texas
Enrollment: 65,302
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $10,030
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $30,208
Description: “In-state students at this tradition-rich university can lock in their tuition rate for four years.”

Truman State University

Location: Kirksville, Missouri
Enrollment: 6,379
In-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $7,656
Out-of-state-tuition and fees 2017-2018: $14,440
Description: “At this 'public Ivy,' students benefit from a strong liberal arts education at a public school price, and most receive scholarships or grants.”

Private colleges

Birmingham–Southern College

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Enrollment: 1,294
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $35,792
Description: “In an effort to be more transparent about out-of-pocket costs, this leading Deep South liberal arts college has reset tuition and fees back to 2002 levels — decreasing these costs by more than half.”

Grinnell College

Location: Grinnell, Iowa
Enrollment: 1,699
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $50,464
Description: “The sticker price may be high, but 93 percent of students receive financial aid, and policy dictates that at least 15 percent of every freshman class must be students whose parents didn’t go to college.”

Houghton College

Location: Houghton, New York
Enrollment: 1,059
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $31,540
Description: “Almost all students at this evangelical Christian college receive financial aid, and nearly half of freshmen qualify for the Pell Grant.”

Kalamazoo College

Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Enrollment: 1,443
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $46,692
Description: “98 percent of students at this globally oriented liberal arts school receive financial aid, and 70 percent study abroad for the same price that they pay for regular tuition.”

Mount Holyoke College

Location: South Hadley, Massachusetts
Enrollment: 2,327
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $47,940
Description: “This academically prestigious women’s college meets 100 percent of the demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.”

Oglethorpe University

Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Enrollment: 1,155
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $35,280
Description: “This urban-based liberal arts college attracts a student body rich in socioeconomic and racial diversity, thanks in part to a generous financial aid that includes a $1,000 grant for every admitted student who completes the FAFSA, regardless of need.”

Olin College of Engineering

Location: Needham, Massachusetts
Enrollment: 378
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $49,280
Description: “The youngest of the country’s top engineering colleges, this tiny but elite institution offers its future engineers half-tuition scholarships worth more than $97,000 over four years.”

Rice University
Craig Hartley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Rice University

Location: Houston, Texas
Enrollment: 6,855
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $45,608
Description: “The dominant university in the Southwest, Rice is one of few elite privates that uses its hefty endowment to keep tuition relatively modest.”

Vanderbilt University

Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Enrollment: 12,587
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $47,664
Description: “Need-blind admissions and loan-free financial aid packages for students with demonstrated need make this top-notch private more affordable than you might expect.”

Warren Wilson College

Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Enrollment: 716
Tuition and fees 2017-2018: $35,244
Description: “All residential students at this globally oriented college in the heart of Appalachia must work on campus — a practice that helps keep tuition down.”

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