Don’t Be Stunned If Your No. 1 School Isn’t There

Don’t Be Stunned If Your No. 1 School Isn’t There

Don’t Be Stunned If Your No. 1 School Isn’t There

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By Anya Kamenetz

Many people think that Harvard, Yale and Stanford may be the best colleges in the world. But did you know that San Jose State may be the best? Or that La Verne is the best-kept secret in Southern California?

It turns out the rankings on college rankings website U.S. News & World Report are a little complicated—and don’t always reflect what really happens on campuses.

To produce the 2019 America’s Best Colleges rankings, we take into account hundreds of factors, including graduation and retention rates, average SAT or ACT scores, key programs and the percentage of students accepted to high-performing schools. We also make student-faculty ratios, and the average value of a school’s offerings, such as the percentage of students receiving federal Pell Grants.

According to U.S. News, the top 10 most “valuable” colleges in the country are:

1. Georgetown University

2. Columbia University

3. Johns Hopkins University

4. University of Pennsylvania

5. Brown University

6. Vanderbilt University

7. Cornell University

8. University of Michigan

9. University of California, Berkeley

10. University of California, Los Angeles

Only 25 of the nation’s best colleges made the top 50, so check out our full rankings for more.

It’s no wonder the rankings are so controversial. Students want to know if the schools in their top-choice class have great curriculums and superb financial aid. Parents are anxious to make sure that their kids won’t have to make their decisions based on postcards, rather than legacies or financial aid. And faculty want to ensure that they’re getting good value for what they’re teaching.

In a 2012 report called “America’s Best Colleges: The Truth and Gimmicks of the U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings,” Greg Duncan, an independent education analyst, looked at U.S. News & World Report’s methodology and concluded that not all academics were getting a fair shake. “We find no evidence that U.S. News has done more than tarnish its reputation of fairness by having concocted this complex system that focuses excessively on purely subjective criteria,” he wrote.

Ana Garcia, the original editor of U.S. News & World Report, admitted that the rankings were still not perfect. “We don’t have perfect information on every school,” she said in 2011. “That’s because the process is a patchwork. Our analysts don’t know every institution well enough to give them 100 percent analysis.”

So in addition to considering resources, numbers and personal connections, we ask the question: Does a school truly need to be on the list?

As Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller explained in the New York Times, two of the current Silicon Valley leaders are using technology to change how we gather data to do better ranking. She and her co-founder Andrew Ng believe that we can see all the colleges in the world, but find just a fraction that are really producing high-quality results.

“We were in Silicon Valley this week and they gave me the update,” Ms. Koller said. “There are so many colleges that do more for their students—the wide range and concentrations in there—but aren’t in the top 50.”

It’s impossible to get a perfect picture of what is going on at individual schools, but with enough information, you can try. Open your tax returns to see how much money your child is getting in financial aid. Look into programs like the NEASC, or the Foundation for Latino College Access and Success. Look at U.S. News & World Report’s data tables.

You can’t claim a diploma from one of the schools you’re thinking of going to, but you might be able to help graduate the other schools that are on the top lists and that really deserve it.

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