PROVO Brigham Young University is third-best in the nation in terms of value for each tuition dollar, according to rankings in a new book by the Princeton Review.
The University of Utah is not ranked in the top 10 but was the only other Utah college or university listed among the 81 profiled in "America's Best Value Colleges."
The book's 2006 edition doesn't mention the hefty subsidy of every BYU student's tuition provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns the school, but editors were aware of it and it did contribute to BYU's high ranking, said Robert Franek, Princeton Review's vice president of publishing.
University and church officials are open about the fact that tithing donated by church members 10 percent of each member's earnings makes up the difference for low tuition costs.
However, neither group will comment on the exact amount, though some estimates place the total at more than $200 million a year. "It is a significant contribution the church makes to a student's education," university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.
Franek said the Princeton Review considered 30 factors to rate schools according to academics, financial aid, student borrowing and what it calls "Tuition GPA," the overall sticker price minus the average amount students receive in scholarships and grants.
The editors combined data provided by administrators at more than 350 colleges and universities with surveys of students attending those schools.
BYU students paid $1,640 in tuition per semester this year, but the university recently announced a tuition hike that will raise the cost to $1,705 for fall semester.
Those amounts are the rate for members of the LDS faith. Non-LDS students will pay $2,460 per semester in tuition.
BYU's Web site states that "nonmembers" are assessed higher tuition because members already have made monetary contributions to the university through tithing, but non-LDS students also receive a subsidized education.
"This higher tuition (for nonmembers) still does not cover the total educational cost," according to BYU's Web site.
That caught the Princeton Review's eye, Franek said.
"It's BYU's mission and mandate to make college affordable to members of their faith without ostracizing other students who attend the university," he said. "There really isn't that dramatic a difference, which makes it a great value. For BYU to charge such a low tuition, I hope it would inspire students and families to find out more about the school."
BYU students average 10 semesters to graduate, Jenkins said. Five years of tuition at the current LDS rate would cost a total of $18,862 far below others listed in the Princeton Review's top 10.
Top-ranked Bates College charges $39,000 a semester.
Bates is still listed as a great value because the sticker shock is really much lower. The average freshman gets $20,000 in grants, Franek said.
University of Utah spokesman Fred Esplin congratulated BYU for its ranking but declined further comment Monday. The U. charges $1,493 per semester for state residents and $4,478 for nonresidents.
One reason BYU tuition is kept deliberately low, according to the university, is to help students graduate with minimal debt or manageable student loans.
At Utah public colleges, students assume about 40 percent of the cost of school operations through tuition. Other costs are covered mostly by taxes.
Justin and Nancy Ashby have a fraction of the debt of many college students. Justin graduates this week from BYU in electrical engineering and Nancy graduated last year in math education. Before she graduated, they nearly broke even every month, as a couple, by working 30 hours a week in campus jobs. Federal financial aid available to married students covered the low tuition payments.
The Ashbys have managed to save some money that, with little debt and a little help from family, has allowed them to make a down payment to build a home in Lehi.
BYU also is considered a training ground for future church leaders. LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley has said scriptural admonitions require secular learning and that although BYU can only directly touch a percentage of college-age Latter-day Saints, it's worth the cost.
"We can accommodate only a relatively few," President Hinckley said in 1999. "If we cannot give to all, why should we give to any? The answer is that if we cannot give to all, let us give to as many as we can.
"The number who can be accommodated on campus is finite, but the influence is infinite."
BYU was listed as the nation's second-best value a year ago by Consumer's Digest, and U.S. News & World Report ranked the Provo school in the top 10 last year for "least debt among graduates."
The LDS Church assumed BYU's debts more than 80 years ago in exchange for the school's real estate. Authors Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis, who wrote "Brigham Young University: A House of Faith," estimated in the mid-1980s that the church subsidized the university to the tune of more than $150 million a year.Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Church's Quorum of the Twelve said in 1995 that $7,500 is spent annually on each BYU student. If that figure still holds true, the total cost now would be $225 million.
Contributing: Tiffany Erickson E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org