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Forbes' Best Colleges 2010

And they're off! The race for who's #1 rages on for another year. Of course the obvious question is: Why?

The spin on Forbes' latest edition of best colleges is "The Best College for You Money." Their approach embraces value. Here's how their press release addresses that issue:


Williams College, a 217 year-old private liberal arts school, tops Forbes’ third annual ranking of America’s Best Colleges (America’s Best Colleges 2010, p. 70), compiled with research by the Center for College Affordability & Productivity.  The United States Military Academy, No. 1 last year, moves into the No. 4 spot this year.  Rounding out the top five are Princeton College [sic] (No. 2), Amherst College (No. 3) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 5).   The report ranks undergraduate institutions based on the quality of the education they provide, the experience of their students and how much their graduates achieve.  In addition to ranking the best colleges, Forbes examines whether a college education is worth the investment (Overinvesting in Higher Ed, p. 76) and looks at a prep program for the children of China’s rich ($200,000 to Get Into Harvard, p. 78).  Online, the report includes a complete ranking of the country’s 600 best colleges as well as a report on the top 100 best undergraduate education buys.

forbes-americas-best-colleges

Here are the Top 10 colleges according to Forbes:

RANKNAME/STATEIN-STATE

TUITION

TYPICAL GRAD DEBT
1Williams College, MA$37,640$  9,296
2Princeton University, NJ$34,290$14,294
3Amherst College, MA$37,640$12,587
4United States Military Academy, NY00
5Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA$37,960$17,923
6Stanford University, CA$36,360$19,897
7Swarthmore College, PA$36,490$  9,812
8Harvard University, MA$36,173$16,153
9Claremont McKenna College, CA$37,060$14,026
10Yale University, CT$35,300$20,382

Here's and excerpt from their comments on methodology:

The best college in America isn't in Cambridge or Princeton, West Point or Annapolis. It's nestled in the Berkshire Mountains. Williams College, a 217-year-old private liberal arts school, tops our third annual ranking of America's Best Colleges. Our list of more than 600 undergraduate institutions is based on the quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students and how much they achieve.

Williams rose to the top spot on our rankings, which are compiled with research from the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, after placing fourth last year and fifth in 2008. It's a small school (just over 2,000 undergrads) with a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, affording students the chance to really get to know their teachers and have a unique college experience.

"One of the things that we really embrace is that we are tiny and very aware of where we are in the world. This fosters an incredible sense of community," says Amanda Esteves-Kraus, a double-major in art history and biology in the class of 2012. "It takes a very specific type of student to go to Williams, and there is a quirkiness here that you can't find anywhere else. This all makes the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere totally irrelevant because you don't actually want to be anywhere else." . . .

. . . To our way of thinking, a good college is one that meets student needs. While other college rankings are based in large part on school reputation as evaluated by college administrators, we focus on factors that directly concern incoming students: Will my courses be interesting? Is it likely I will graduate in four years? Will I incur a ton of debt getting my degree? And once I get out of school, will I get a good job?

To answer these questions, the staff at CCAP gathers data from a variety of sources. They use 11 factors in compiling these rankings, each of which falls into one of five general categories. First, they measure how much graduates succeed in their chosen professions after they leave school, evaluating the average salaries of graduates reported by Payscale.com (30%), the number of alumni listed in a Forbes/CCAP list of corporate officers (5%), and enrollment-adjusted entries in Who's Who in America (10%) . . .

And I was quite happy to see this concluding rationale:

. . . Some readers may disagree with the way we construct our rankings or the weights we apply to the data. Or they may want to consider other variables, such as campus crime rates or SAT scores. So we also offer a do-it-yourself ranking that customizes the process, allowing users to construct their own list according to personal tastes and preferences. (Click here to create your own college ranking.)

You can only learn so much from ranking schools; it's important to match the individual student to the place. A student who thrives at Williams might do terribly at Florida State, and of course it's possible to get an Ivy League-quality education at a big state school. But with tuition and fees up significantly in the last decade, college has become one of the biggest financial decisions families make. They deserve all the information they can get.

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I'm not a rankings guy. I'm a "trod the sod" guy. By that, I mean that high schoolers should do their research based on personal preferences and then actually visit their candidate schools and talk to current students. Prestige can be quite misleading, as Forbes implies. However, if at all possible a high schooler who is discriminating may be able to ferret out at least a healthy handful of matched candidates from the 3,000+ four-year colleges and universities out there without being blinded by Ivy glare.

If you have any anecdotes about your college search and selection process, along with the associated outcomes--good or bad--we would love to hear about them. Don't be shy.

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