I hail from Minneapolis. When I applied to schools, I didn't look at anything inside of Minnesota. I liked the UC system because they recognize the International Baccalaureate program (similar to AP) and the cost, even as an out of state student, was significantly lower than a private school -- GWU was an alternative and about double the cost of the degree which I just achieved from UC Santa Barbara. I sincerely believe we have the best of both worlds here. Most of my professors achieved their doctorates at notable universities such as Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, etc., which is to be expected for a graduate degree but also take pride in conveying their knowledge to us weak-minded students.
Major and prestigious universities, the professors priorities are usually donated to the advancement of their careers and their respective fields. Small colleges can cater to the opposite extreme and, while creating great rapport with the students, they fall short of technical expertise. I believe a middle ground exists at many universities. What I found at UCSB wasn't always the best teaching or cutting edge research in every field, but a healthy taste of both. When I finished up my degree a few weeks ago, I felt very happy with the bond I had created with my school. I paid about $32,000 a year to go here and I believe it was worth every dime, but some might not agree with me. After all, what makes for a good fit is subjective to the student and their needs, but that's another story. The bottom line is that a connection cannot be drawn between prestige, cost, and the perceived quality of a degree.