With the 2011-2012 edition of The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America, released last month, our editors sought to produce a college ranking that outperformed the other major ranking systems in terms of measuring what ordinary American students and their parents care the most about. The recent publication of U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 college ranking provides an opportunity to compare and contrast our ranking system with one that many have come to consider the industry standard.
The first major difference between The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America ranking and the U.S. News & World Report ranking is that The Best Colleges ranking includes schools from all the basic Carnegie Classifications together. U.S. News & World Report publishes separate rankings for each of four categories: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges. We chose to mix schools from different categories into a single ranking because there is little evidence that college students find the classifications important to their decision about where to go to college. Our research indicates that the most important thing to college students and their parents is finding the best degree at the best college they can afford–whether that is at a National University, Regional University, a Liberal Arts College is hardly relevant to most of them. When schools are ranked in separate categories as U.S. News & World Report does, it is extremely difficult for students make cross-classification comparisons. By ranking schools of all classifications together, The Best Colleges ranking give students and their parents a more comprehensive and relevant look at the higher education landscape in America.
With our country in the midst of one of the worst recessions in years and college tuition continuing to rise at a staggering rate, it isn’t surprising that students and their families want to find schools that won’t take an arm and a leg for tuition and burden graduates with large amounts of student loan debt. They also want to know that when they graduate they will have a good chance of making a decent income. That’s why for The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America ranking we chose to put a heavy emphasis on economic value, awarding colleges with low tuition, generous financial aid, low cost of living and a track record of graduating students who go on to make a good living. The U.S. News & World Report main rankings don’t take any of these things into account. They do publish a separate Best Value College ranking, but even there they ignore cost of living and graduate salary performance. By emphasizing economic value, The Best Colleges ranking provides a college ranking that not only better reflects the best value colleges, but the values of most ordinary American families.
Finally, The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America did something that no other college ranking does, including U.S. News & World Report, by taking into account statistical data on the quality of life in each school’s location. We did this out of recognition that a college education doesn’t take place in a vacuum and that students want to know that the place they will be living for the next four (or more) years will be a place where they can hang out and make connections with other young, successful and highly educated people, while not having to go broke to do it. And so in generating our ranking we awarded schools in locations with more youthful, wealthy and highly educated populations and a low cost of living.
You can read a more detailed explanation of the methodology we used in generating The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America ranking. Also, be sure to check out a full list of our other rankings on our rankings page, including rankings of traditional and online degrees by subject, the top 25 online colleges and universities and the top 25 online MBA programs.