At Swarthmore College, the motto could be "no child left unfunded." The highly selective small private college this year gave out $24 million in financial aid, with about half of its 1,450 students getting a share.

It's just one measure that helped put the Delaware County college at the top of two surveys out this week ranking the nation's "best values in higher education."

Yesterday, the school was rated the best value among private colleges in the country by the Princeton Review and USA Today, which for the first time teamed up on the rankings.

A day earlier, Swarthmore placed second among private liberal-arts colleges on a study by Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, behind Pomona College in California.

Princeton Review looked at the percentage of students whose financial need was fully met, among many other categories.

"It's there that Swarthmore was able to trump so many other schools on our list," said Robert Franek, vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review. "They were able to meet 100 percent of students' needs - a compelling story for a lot of college-bound students and their families."

Swarthmore, on a bucolic, 399-acre nationally registered arboretum, also scored high in interviews with students, he said.

"Students at Swarthmore were superlative in the way they ranked their academic experience," Franek said. "They have exceptional relationships with very capable faculty members."

Swarthmore charges $45,700 a year in tuition, fees, and room and board, and gave out on average $32,000 last year in financial aid per needy student.

Swarthmore officials also say the actual annual cost to educate a student at the college is $81,073 and that it makes up that difference as well.

Princeton University also did well in both surveys, placing third. Other area schools that garnered recognition in both were Bryn Mawr and Lafayette.

The University of Pennsylvania, Haverford, Villanova, Muhlenberg and Lehigh placed among the top 50 schools in their categories in the Kiplinger study, while the College of New Jersey was among the top public schools in the Princeton Review/USA Today report.

Swarthmore president Alfred H. Bloom said the school earned its ranking because "we accept remarkable students and then offer them the financial aid they need. Except for one scholarship, our aid is all need-based."

Although Bloom has some reservations about college rankings, he was pleased to see his school do so well.

"They create perceptions of differences in quality, which are often unwarranted and tend to obscure the fact that there are so many excellent colleges in America. . . . However, these rankings make an important contribution in helping the public to recognize that excellent private education is often available at a surprisingly affordable cost."

Bloom, who spoke by telephone from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where this year he will become president of a new New York University campus, said Swarthmore would continue to meet the financial need of all students even as the economy worsens and its endowment dips.

"Swarthmore anticipates having to increase the amount of money that we offer in financial aid in order to ensure that students can continue at Swarthmore, and can continue to choose Swarthmore, regardless of their financial circumstances," he said.

Swarthmore also is known for its honors program, which concludes with national and sometimes worldwide experts who question students to determine if they have mastered their subjects. About a third of Swarthmore students are enrolled in the honors program.

For their study, Princeton Review and USA Today considered academics, costs and financial aid, including the average debt that students graduated with after four years. It also incorporates a student-opinion survey.

Kiplinger's used 40 data points, including enrollment, admission rates, test scores, student-faculty ratios and financial aid data.

Franek acknowledged that many of the schools highlighted as best values were among the most expensive in the country, but said that their commitment to meeting financial aid need made them worthy of the recognition.

Haverford rose on Kiplinger's list this year from 14th to ninth.

"The thing we liked that bumped Haverford up was its graduation rate," said Marc Wojno, senior associate editor at Kiplinger.

Haverford went up six percentage points, with 87 percent of students graduating in four years and 91 percent graduating in five years. The school also has a student-faculty ratio of 8-1, he said.

Haverford has focused more heavily on helping students pick the right majors, which increases the chance of success, said Greg Kannerstein, dean of the college.

"If someone gets into a major and finds out that's not the right one for them, it slows down their progress at the institution," he said.

Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said the school was always pleased to be recognized for its efforts to meet the full financial need of families. The school has replaced loans with grants that do not have to be repaid.

"This gives students the opportunity to graduate debt-free," she said.

Area 'Best Value' Colleges

Princeton Review

and USA Today survey:

Private colleges

1. Swarthmore

3. Princeton

Public colleges

10. The College of New Jersey

Top 100 by Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine:

Liberal Arts

2. Swarthmore

9. Haverford

18. Lafayette

39. Bryn Mawr

41. Muhlenberg

Universities

3. Princeton

11. University

of Pennsylvania

26. Lehigh

32. Villanova

EndText

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder

at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.