Forbes College Rankings: The Full Review

Forbes Magazine: Newest Player in the College Rankings Game

Pros: Any new kid on the block will force rankings readers to re-evaluate the role of these rosters when making college choices. The Forbes approach knocks several of the Ivies off their pedestals and gives high marks to some lesser-known schools.

Cons: As with all such lists, the Forbes rankings do little to help foster sound student-school matches. Moreover, methodology used here is questionable. For instances, Forbes bases twenty-five percent of the findings on student comments posted on Does that really tell us which schools have the top profs or simply which ones have students with a lot of free time?

The Full Review

Forbes Magazine prides itself on being "The Capitalist Tool" (their choice of words, not mine, I swear!) but apparently it took those tools at Forbes several decades to recognize the obvious…college rankings sell magazines, and yet U.S. News has had the corner on that market for decades.

But finally, for the first time, Forbes has launched its own list of "America’s Best Colleges" which serves up many of the usual suspects from the U.S. News roster, as well as a few surprises.

For starters, Forbes does not provide separate lists of universities and liberal arts colleges, as U.S. News does. Instead, their "Complete College Rankings" combines both nationally recognized universities and LAC’s, some of which are not even household names.

While rankings aficionados won’t be shocked to see Princeton leading the charge, the number-two school, Cal Tech, has never fared quite as well with U.S. News. The Forbes Top 25 includes Harvard (#3), Yale (# 9), Columbia (#10) but no other Ivies. Northwestern, at #11 bests MIT at #14, nearby U. of Chicago (#18) and Stanford down at #23. West Point (#6) and the Air Force Academy (#16) are the only other universities in this upper echelon. The remaining Top-25 slots go to smaller schools, among them such U.S. News stalwarts as Swarthmore, Williams, Amherst, and Wellesley, along with Indiana’s Wabash College at #12 (relegated to #54 by U.S. News) and Kentucky’s Centre College at #13 (U.S. News # 45). Click here for the complete list of Forbes’ college rankings.

Forbes reports that they called on Dr. Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (staffed largely by current colleges students) to develop their rankings methodology, which considered the "quality of education" each schools provides and "how much their students achieve." In doing so, Forbes draws 25% of its information from the student evaluations on, and another 25% from alumni listings in Who’s Who in America. Remaining factors include:

  • average amount of student debt at graduation held by those who borrowed in the first place
  • percentage of students graduating in four years
  • faculty and student winners of biggie prizes like the Nobel or Rhodes Scholarships

So, then, how do we at College Confidential feel about this latest addition to the rankings rat race? (As if that choice of wording doesn’t say it all?) Frankly, I have no problem with such lists. As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, "I like to peruse them with about the same degree of amusement that I get from watching one of those E! Channel specials like ‘Wildest Cop Show Moments’ or ‘Top 20 Hip Hop Cash Kings’ while I’m folding my laundry. I figure it can never hurt to know what’s out there and what other people think is important."

I also admit that I get some perverse pleasure from sticking such lists in the faces of Ivy-angsting families who would never consider schools like Wabash and Centre, which fare so well with Forbes.

Moreover, each time a new rankings list emerges that varies, however slightly, from the U.S. News gold standard, I think that it plants the seed, albeit subliminally, that there are myriad ways to judge quality in higher education. So, perhaps ironically, the best message we receive with each new player in the rankings game is that the rankings aren’t really all that important at all.

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