On August 1st, Forbes published its annual list of America's Top Colleges online, and the print version will appear in the magazine later this month. The top 10 schools will be familiar names to most people (click on a school's name to see an admissions profile):
- Princeton University
- Williams College
- Stanford University
- University of Chicago
- Yale University
- Harvard University
- United States Military Academy
- Columbia University
- Pomona College
- Swarthmore College
The Forbes methodology for the ranking places value on post graduate success, student satisfaction, debt, four-year graduation rate, and competitive awards (like Rhodes and Fulbright). Forbes, unlike U.S. News & World Report, does not take into consideration a school's reputation or its selectivity (although note that all of the top 10 are highly selective and have excellent reputations).
The categories for evaluation sound great, but the actual sources used for measuring these categories can be suspect. For example, 17.5% of a college's score comes from RateMyProfessor.com. As any professor or student knows, RateMyProfessor.com can be a useful and fun resource, but it's also easy to manipulate. For good reason, I don't think you'll find a university anywhere in the country that would use RateMyProfessor to evaluate faculty teaching during the tenure process.
Another 10% of each college's score comes from the number of alumni in Who's Who in America. I truly don't understand the logic behind this measure. I cringe whenever I see Who's Who on someone's resume--it's largely a vanity press set up to sell Who's Who books.
A few of the measures strike me as much more valuable: predicted vs. actual retention rates, salaries of alumni, graduation rates, and average debt loads. I'd love to see more weight given to measuring how well students perform compared to how well they are predicted to perform. It's the best way to measure the good a school does for any given student population.
Finally, the Forbes list is unusual in that it groups together all kinds of schools--small liberal arts colleges, large public universities, military academies, and so on. Should we really be using the same measures to compare West Point to Williams? Perhaps, but there's certainly an issue with apples and oranges here.
What are your thoughts on the Forbes ranking? Share your opinions using the comment link below.