Stanford, Babson top unique list of best colleges

'An expensive college is fine, but not if it takes you eight years'

Using a new formula, Money magazine's college rankings "get it right" for potential students and their families, Jeffrey Selingo writes for the Washington Post.

Each year, he says, organizations and media outlets tackle a question from potential students: "Of the thousands of colleges in the U.S., which ones are worth the return on my investment?"

In its second year, the Money magazine ranking comes the closest to actually answering that, Selingo writes.

While U.S. News & World Report may be the most widely known rankings, those focus too much on prestige, he argues. Instead, Money magazine includes metrics that, according to Selingo, better approximate what students actually care about when choosing a college. Selingo identifies four key measures that help Money "crack the code on answering the ROI question":

1. Net price: Money calculates the net price and multiplies it by the school's average time to completion. "An expensive college is fine, but not if it takes you eight years instead of four years to complete your degree," Selingo writes.

2. Debt: The new rankings include how much students' parents borrow in federal PLUS loans, the size of which have grown significantly in the last 10 years. There is no limit on how much parents may borrow in this form, and they are relatively easy to obtain.

3. Time to graduation: The magazine calculated a "value-added graduation rates," the difference between the actual graduation rate and the expected rate, as determined by the student body's academic and economic profile.

4. Outcomes: To determine how well each college prepares students for the workforce, Money used salary data from PayScale along with a Brookings Institution analysis that determined the market value of alumni's 25 most cited skills on LinkedIn.

Can you calculate a college's value? New rankings hope to do just that

This formula resulted in the top schools as:

1. Stanford University

2. Babson College

3. (tie)Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3. (tie)Princeton University

5. California Institute of Technology

6. (tie)Harvey Mudd College

6. (tie)Harvard University

8. Maine Maritime Academy

9. (tie) Amherst College

9. (tie) University of California-Berkeley

9. (tie) Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Determining which college to attend cannot simply be based on data, says Selingo. "But by supplying prospective students and their parents with better information that they can use to balance with their emotional side, they can perhaps make better choices about which schools are best for them" (Selingo, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 7/13).

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