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Two College Rankings That Calculate Return on Investment

Those familiar with college rankings resources know that the rankings issue of US News & World Report magazine, published in September of each year, is the most widely read and quoted source of not only rankings but other useful information on American colleges and universities. Although it’s perceived by some as the last word on the relative quality of American postsecondary education, it’s by no means the only source of such information or even necessarily the best.

The selection of an undergraduate college for a child is often the second largest financial decision that an American family confronts, with the purchase of a home being the only one larger. Total expenses for a 4-year bachelor’s degree at a public postsecondary institution now exceed $80,000 and their private counterparts cost over $180,000.

Two information resources, Money and Forbes magazines, consider the US News & World Reports, in its methodology, to be relying too heavily on measures of a school’s degree of admissions selectivity. Although this is certainly useful information, as a methodology it cedes too much weight to admissions process and not enough to educational outcomes, according to Money and Forbes. Hence, these two resources focus less on what the “best schools” are and more on whether a college provides value to students, that is, a sound return on investment.

Money and Forbes use similar criteria and weights to calculate their rankings. Unlike US News & World Reports, they mix colleges and universities, both public and private, on a single list. Money magazine ranks schools according to the following factors:

  1. Quality of education (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:
    • Six-year graduation rate (30%)
    • Value-added graduation rate (30%)
    • Peer quality (10%)
    • Instructor quality (student-to-faculty ratio) (10%)
    • Financial condition of institution (20%).
  2. Affordability (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:
    • Net price of a degree (30%)
    • Debt per student (20%)
    • Student loan repayment and default risk (15%)
    • Value-added student loan repayment measures (15%)
    • Affordability for low-income students (20%)
  3. Outcomes (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:
    • Earnings of graduates (12.5%)
    • Earnings adjusted by major (15%)
    • College Scorecard 10-year earnings (10%)
    • Estimated market value of alumni’s average job skills (10%)
    • Value-added earnings (12.5%)
    • Job meaning (5%).
    • Socio-economic mobility index (20%)

The top 25 of the Money and Forbes rankings are compared side by side in the table below.

Table: Colleges and Universities with the Best Return on Investment in 2017

RankMoney MagazineRankForbes Magazine
1Princeton University1UC Berkeley
2CUNY Bernard Baruch College2UC Los Angeles
3Michigan – Ann Arbor3Princeton University
4UC Berkeley4University of Florida
5UC Los Angeles (tie)5Harvard University
5Stanford University (tie)6MIT
6UC Irvine7Stanford University
7MIT8UC Irvine
8UC Davis9UC Davis
9Harvard University10Brigham Young University
10Virginia – Charlottesville11UC San Diego
11Rice University12Duke University
12Washington – Seattle13Yale University
13Yale University14Rice University
14Vanderbilt University15North Carolina – Chapel Hill
15Washington & Lee University16Amherst College
16Georgia Tech – Atlanta17Cornell University
17University of Florida18Dartmouth College
18Cal Tech19Cal Tech
19Maryland – College Park20Virginia – Charlottesville
20Columbia University21Georgetown University
21Illinois – Urbana-Champaign22UC Santa Barbara
22Virginia Tech23Brown University
23Rutgers University24Vanderbilt University
24Williams College25Wellesley College
25University of Pennsylvania26Williams College

 Students and parents should understand that all ranking methodologies have limitations. You should use college rankings only as general guides or quick reference sources, not as your sole resource in making a college selection decision.

Your IvySelect college admissions counselor will help you develop your targeted college list based on a nuanced understanding of the schools that best fit your needs, talents, interests, and career aspirations. IvySelect provides expert guidance during all stages of the admissions process and is especially proficient in the development of your best application for each targeted school.

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