Forbes ranks its 'Top Colleges' of 2016

List shows students' shift to the West Coast

Forbes released its 9th annual "Top Colleges" rankings this week, and Stanford University secured the No. 1 spot.

The rankings reflect three trends in higher education, writes Caroline Howard. First, West Coast schools' clout is growing. Second, the tension between STEM and liberal arts colleges persist. And third, a disproportionate number of private, old schools provide the best return on investment.

For its calculation of the nation's best 660 colleges and universities, Forbes examined undergraduate satisfaction, time to graduation, student debt levels, alumni employment, and alumni successes. The rankings were created in conjunction with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and data from the Education Department, PayScale, and Forbes' own "America's Leaders" list.

According to Forbes' methodology, the top 10 schools are:

1. Stanford University
2. Williams College
3. Princeton University
4. Harvard University
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
6. Yale University
7. Pomona College
8. Brown University
9. Wesleyan University
10. Swarthmore College

While admission and application rates for the Class of 2020 in Forbes' top 25 colleges nearly all reached record highs, the West Coast schools saw slightly higher numbers. Stanford accepted 4.7% of its 43,977 applicants, while Harvard University accepted 5.2% of its 39,044 applicants.

Some West Coast schools also had higher alumni earnings. California Institute of Technology alumni on average earn $125,000, while MIT alumni earn $124,000.

However, 20 of the top 25 institutions still came from the Northeast, and the Ivy League schools continued to do well. Seven of the eight official Ivies and five of the eight "Little Ivies" were in the top 20.

"For millions of students, and not just Americans, Ivy League schools continue to hold unequivocal prestige and value," Howard writes.

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Other notable aspects include:

  • Of the top 25 schools, all boast retention rates of 94% or above—with the University of Chicago and MIT leading with 99% retention;
  • Only two public schools cracked the top 25: U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and U.S. Naval Academy; and
  • Eleven liberal arts colleges made the top 25, the same number as last year.

(Howard, Forbes, 7/5).

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