As the recession began to descend and claw at all of us, a team of leaders at the University of Colorado at Boulder sat down at a table in my office and asked, what could we, as a university, do to help our students and their families during these uncertain economic times?

So it was heartening to see CU-Boulder named the No. 5 "best value" public university in the nation by the Princeton Review last month. The New York test-prep company, which is not affiliated with Princeton University, examined academics, cost and financial aid of 700 campuses considered the most selective out of more than 2,000 public and private colleges and universities.

It considered 30 criteria including student-faculty ratios, percentage of classes taught by teaching assistants, financial aid, tuition, fees, books, room and board and graduates' debt.

The analysis mentions our 150 fields of study with especially strong programs in engineering, the sciences, architecture, journalism and mass communication, and aerospace engineering.

With wide academic choices, an intensive core curriculum and a first-class education, the report notes, "CU students are likely to find themselves prepared for the real world." It also lauded our Career Services office.


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Each year more than half of CU-Boulder undergraduates receive financial aid of some kind, whether it's loans, work-study or scholarships. The study cites our comparatively low tuition and fees for resident students and our guaranteed four-year fixed tuition for non-resident students.

"These schools are exceptional and they are giving their students the aid they need," David Soto of the Princeton Review told USA Today.

While it's gratifying to have a national publication recognize what Colorado students have known for a long time, our effort to maintain quality and affordability is magnified during a challenging economic period.

The Princeton Review summary comes on the heels of a U.S News and World Report evaluation in November that listed CU-Boulder has one of 30 "well-regarded and affordable colleges" that still offer small classes in an era of dwindling state support. The report notes that half of CU-Boulder's classes have fewer than 19 students.

The applause is nice but what more can we as a university community do to ease the financial burden on our students? The CU Book Store is piloting a textbook rental program to help students cut down on book costs.

And our bursar and financial aid offices have combined efforts for a new financial literacy help program (colorado.edu/bursar/financial_literacy/) with independent advice on credit cards, insurance, taxes, loan repayment and much more.

But perhaps the best thing we can do for our students is to make sure they are prepared for a life of career and contribution in a global economy. PayScale.com recently ranked CU-Boulder 16th among the nation's public universities for earning power upon graduation with a median salary of $47,000 and a mid-career salary of $94,000.

This ethic of value at CU-Boulder -- during good times and bad -- will live on in one of the core initiatives in our "Flagship 2030" strategic plan: serving Colorado and our graduates.

Philip DiStefano is chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.