When Annie Layden began hunting for colleges, her list of choices started at 15.
Midway through her junior year, the Fort Collins, Colo., native plugged a set of criteria into a computer program. The program spit out her initial options.
“On my top 10 list of criteria, the first notch was location, and then it was tuition, and then the degrees offered,” Layden said.
She whittled the list down to three: Colorado University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Wyoming.
“When I got to Wyoming, it just kind of felt like another home,” Layden said.
Cost of tuition factored heavily into her final decision to attend UW.
“I looked a lot at tuition,” she said. “Once I visited Wyoming, they were able to roughly tell me how much it would cost to go there. It was less than what I would pay for in-state.”
Layden is not alone in placing a high priority on the price of a degree.
According to a July report from Sallie Mae, 67 percent of families eliminated colleges based on cost at any stage during the research and admissions process, while 40 percent of families eliminated schools because of high cost prior to researching them.
UW officials have said families’ emphasis on cost when selecting schools, along with other factors, have helped the university recruit talented students — even when the school plans to hike tuition in August.
UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said in-state tuition and fees for undergraduates will cost $4,404 in the 2013-14 school year. Non-resident undergraduate tuition will cost $14, 124.
“That’s a slight increase from this past school year that’s ended, when it was $4,278,” he said. “For non-residents it was $13,488.”
Even with the increase, UW’s tuition and fees remain “the lowest among public doctoral degree granting universities in the whole country,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin cited a study from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which determined UW’s tuition has climbed slower than other universities in the region.
“The increase in average resident undergraduate tuition in the whole region between 2006 and 2012 was 44.7 percent,” he said. “For UW, that number was 4.3 percent.”
In addition, in-state students can apply for the Wyoming Department of Education’s Hathaway Scholarship Program to help alleviate tuition costs, Baldwin said.
Many students take advantage of the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which allows students from various states in the region to enroll at 150 percent of the enrolling institution’s resident tuition — a reduction from normal out-of-state tuition.
A number of students also attain Rocky Mountain Scholars Awards, set aside for non-resident freshmen.
With those scholarships and programs, Colorado residents can attend UW for less than in-state schools, Baldwin said.
UW Director of Admissions Shelley Dodd said tuition is one of many factors families consider.
“It’s an important factor in the equation, but I still think prospective students and their parents are looking for the academic opportunities, internships and whether they’re going to get jobs when they graduate,” she said, adding, “They’re looking for that value piece, and they know they can find that at the University of Wyoming.”
Recent studies corroborate Dodd’s statements.
In July, UW placed 11th on Forbes’s “Best Value Universities” list.
“And a number of the schools ranked above us are service academies that don’t charge tuition,” Baldwin said.
UW also landed at number 11 in the “Best College for the Money” rankings published Thursday by College Factual, a college-evaluation firm.
Bill Phelan, College Factual chief executive officer, said UW’s strong faculty-to-student ratio (14:1), tuition cost and high percentage of full-time faculty factored strongly into UW’s value ranking.
Phelan said 92 percent of UW’s faculty are hired on a full-time basis. The national average is 50 percent.
“We take that into consideration as to the quality of what the student’s getting,” he said. “We know that nationally, if a school is taking on an adjunct professor, they generally make 17 percent on an apples-to-apples basis of what a full-time professor makes. So, we look at this and say, ‘This is a school that’s really committed to a full-time faculty.’”
He said UW graduates should be able to pay down debt within a short timeframe.
“A student coming out of this school has an average starting compensation of $39,000,” he said. “But then we say, ‘What does it cost?’ A student that is out-of-state has an average cost of $17,198 a year.”
Based on those factors, College Factual determines a UW degree has a high economic value, Phelan said.
“The students coming out of this school are not going to be strapped with burdens of student loans,” he said. “It’s going to be a reasonable amount, and they’re going to pay it off in a reasonable amount of time.
“So, we look at all of those factors, and determine it’s a pretty good deal.”
Editor's note: This article has been changed from its original format due to a mistake in the story.