Forbes has released their ninth annual ranking of the best colleges and universities in the country in an effort to answer the question of whether higher education is worth the cost.
Caroline Howard writes for Forbes that at least for the 660 universities included on the list, higher education is worth the cost. The list is organized based on what students get out of their college experience rather than what helps to get students into college, such as high school class rank and SAT scores.
With college being one of the most significant financial decisions of a person's life, the magazine said as much information as possible should be offered on the topic. This includes things like the satisfaction level of undergraduates, how likely it is to graduate within four years, and job prospects.
Through a partnership with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity led by Richard Vedder, the magazine obtains their information directly from the Department of Education, Payscale, and the America's Leaders list.
Post-graduate success accounted for 32.5% of each institution's score. Payscale.com, the market leader in global compensation data, and the US Department of Education's College Scoreboard offered information on the topic, including self-reported salaries and tax records. In addition, schools where innovators and influencers such as Nobel Peace Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners received their degrees were also rewarded.
Meanwhile, 25% of each score went toward student debt. As students and their families are borrowing more in an effort to cover the rising cost of tuition, close to 43 million Americans hold a total of $1.3 trillion in debt as of 2016. The number of borrowers increased by 93% between 2004 and 2014, with the average balance rising by 74% in the same time period. The average balance held by each borrower is currently ~$27,000.
Three components of student debt are considered for the list, including average federal student loan debt load, student loan default rates, and predicted percentage of students who will take out loans in comparison to the actual percentage. By looking at these three attributes, the magazines states that it can give an accurate picture of how affordable particular schools are, as well as how easy it is for graduates to repay their student loan debt.
Student satisfaction is also considered and accounts for 25% of the total score. In particular, the magazine looks at how many students are transferring out of the school while anayzing both actual and predicted freshmen-to-sophomore retention rates. Student evaluations listed on RateMyProfessors.com are also taken into consideration. The site offers more than 15 million ratings of close to 1.4 million professors.
A school's graduation rate accounts for 7.5%, while the academic success of its students counts for 10%.
While schools like Stanford, which holds the top position on the list, and Princeton, ranked number three, take the high spots, it is spot number 59 — Harvey Mudd College — that holds the title of highest earning college. Graduates from the school in the middle of their career earn an average salary of $133,000. According to Harvey Mudd Director of Admission Peter Osgood, the answer is embedded in how the school and its students approach learning.
"Our core curriculum ensures that students see between disciplines, and that's a really valuable skill," Osgood says. "Our graduates are trained to anticipate connections, and frankly, it's where most innovation occurs, on the borders between disciplines."