The people who keep track of the nation's colleges and universities turn out more lists than a David Letterman gag writer.

The latest batch of lists to appear on newsstands covers ``best buys' - schools with relatively low tuition and high academic standards. Several are in the Piedmont.U.S. News & World Report, which also ranks academic institutions in a variety of other categories, lists its best buys in its 1991 ``America's Best Colleges' book.

It rates the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the best buy among national universities.

The list includes schools that have the lowest current tuition among the magazine's top academic choices. For public institutions, the figures reflect out-of-state tuition. For UNC-Chapel Hill that's $6,843 a year.

Others on the U.S. News list are Davidson College, second among national liberal-arts colleges, with a tuition of $11,954; and the N.C. School of the Arts, first among art and music specialty schools, with a tuition of $6,010.

For the first time this year, Barron's Educational Series has published a best-buys list.

Barron's chose 300 colleges and universities partially for their relatively low tuition, but also considered factors such as percentage of faculty with doctorates and percentage of freshmen who graduate. The publishers also polled school officials and students.

Among North Carolina schools, Barron's lists Guilford College, Salem College, UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Wake Forest University and Warren Wilson College.

Best buys aside, the 1991 Fiske Guide to Colleges lists ``nearly 300 of the best and most interesting institutions in the nation - the ones that students most want to know about.'

In North Carolina, the Fiske list includes Davidson College, Duke University, Guilford, N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNCG and Wake Forest.

Of UNCG, Fiske says, ``No matter what their interests, Greensboro students can enjoy what one student describes as 'everything a large university has to offer with a small-college atmosphere.' '

About Guilford, it says: ``Recent history has shown that Guilford is making a new name for itself ... Students and faculty alike realize that Guilford is a school on the move.'

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