Gunning for U.S. News & World Report's College Rankings

I’ve only run across two or three people out here in California, who have heard of my daughter’s college.

Even when Caitlin tells people the name of her school-Juniata College–they stumble on the pronunciation. I used to do the same thing before we visited the college that’s nestled in the Allegheny Mountains in rural Pennsylvania.

It’s obviously easier on the ego when you attend a school that’s instantly recognizable and that people can pronounce. People are impressed when you’ve got a UCLA decal slapped on your car. A Juniata decal? Not so much.

I mention this worship with higher ed brand names because Forbes magazine has just inaugurated its first annual issue that ranks colleges in a far different way than U.S. News & World Report.

I’m thrilled that Forbes is trying to evaluate colleges in a more meaningful way because US News’ methodology is nothing short of pathetic. As I’ve mentioned in my book, The College Solution and my blog in July, US News’ college rankings rely heavily on the general reputation of schools, how many kids a school rejects and how rich the endowments are. US News has never attempted to measure WHAT KIND OF LEARNING takes place in any schools. In contrast, Forbes makes a stab at measuring the quality of learning.

Using this different methodology, lots of the higher ed pretty boys didn’t fare as well on the Forbes‘ list.

To be sure, there are many of the usual higher ed darlings at the top of the Forbes list 569 schools, like Princeton (1) , Cal Tech (2) , Harvard (3) and Swarthmore (4), but plenty of the biggest brand name schools that typically shine on the USNWR fell. Here are some examples: Cornell (121), Dartmouth (127), Washington University in St. Louis (146) , Carnegie Mellon (266) and the University of Southern California (300).

Higher up on the list are plenty of schools like Juniata that you’ve probably never heard of. Centre College (13) in Danville, KY, Wabash College, a men’s college in Crawfordsville, IN (12), New College of Florida in Sarasota (29), Westminster College in Fulton, MO, (39) and Knox College in Galesburg, IL (46), which is a school that is on my son’s list of colleges to visit this spring. By the way, my daughter’s school ranked (113) just two spots behind UCLA (111).

Researchers at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity compiled the list by starting with what they considered to be the top 15% of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities. So the pool began with 569 schools out of nearly 4,000 higher ed institutions in the country.

As Forbes reports, the research, which was overseen by Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, clearly shows that students are happier with their educations at small schools. The median undergrad enrollment at the top 50 ranked schools is less than 2,300 and only one school that cracked the top 50 list — University of Virginia – has more than 10,000 students. Forbes explains that liberal arts colleges did extremely well because of the quality of their teachers and the personal attention students enjoy.

No ranking system is perfect, but at least the methodology behind the Forbes’ first annual college rankings seems to be headed in the right direction. Go ahead and take a look at the issue and make up your own mind.

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