Kentucky's Berea College was founded as a Christian school with a mission of providing an education accessible to all. In the past, that meant opening its classes to women and Black students. (It was the first interracial, co-educational college in the South.) Today, the college focuses on offering a path to a college degree for students with limited economic resources, especially those from Appalachia, where the college is located.

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As such, it's not surprising that the small liberal arts college is a standout for affordability, capturing the No. 1 spot for this measure in Money’s ratings three years in a row. Nearly all first-year students are eligible for need-based federal Pell Grants. Berea doesn't charge tuition, and all students work a minimum of 10 hours a week on campus, for which they take home a paycheck to help cover day-to-day expenses. At the end of their college careers, students leave with a labor transcript along with a degree. More than half of graduates have no student debt, and those who do borrow finish with modest debt loads.

Berea offers about 30 majors and 40 minors, with specialized programs ranging from peace and social justice studies to forest resource management. There are 14 residence halls, plus an ecovillage — made up of about 50 apartments — for students with children or who are married. Students living there are expected to meet certain standards of environmentally friendly living, pitching in to help with composting, babysitting, gardening or landscaping activities.