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Articles / Paying for College / Best "Money's Worth" Colleges

Best "Money's Worth" Colleges

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | July 14, 2015
I'll say right up front that I'm not a fan of college rankings. Having witnessed (and reluctantly participated in) the annual debates and shouting matches inspired by the U.S. News' yearly pontifications, I'm loathe to discuss yet another set of rankings here.

However, this newly released list of Best Colleges in America for Your Money by Money attempts to inform those searching for schools that provide the best education bang for their buck might be worth a quick look, in my view. There are some caveats, though.

In the press release material I received, those caveats became apparent in the third sentence of Money's introduction:

Today, MONEY reveals it's second annual ranking of the Best Colleges in America for Your Money. The list ranks more than 700 schools on 21 measures, assessing quality of education, affordability and alumni success. This year Stanford University was ranked No. 1, while Babson College fell to No. 2. Additionally Princeton, MIT, and Harvard all ranked within the top 10. [my emphasis]

My first reaction to that statement was, “Ha! Good luck with your admission chances at those schools!" Granted, they may indeed offer the most for students' and families' money, especially those whose financial pictures fall deeply into the need-based-aid category, but the bigchallenge is getting in. This is just one of the reasons rankings can be deceptive. It's also why I'm not an advocate of constructing a list of candidate colleges based on rankings. There's just too much chance for mismatch and disappointment at the end of the college process.

Nevertheless (I've always been fascinated with that three-word “word"), I thought I would give these rankings some keystrokes today, just for your general information, curiosity, or “grins and giggles," as a friend of mine always says. I've already mentioned my giggles about the Top-10 schools they mention. Perhaps you'll garner a grin or two, too.

For the sake of understanding where Money is coming from with their rankings, here part of their press release's introduction:

… MONEY reveals its second annual list of MONEY's Best Colleges, a value ranking that evaluates colleges on measures of educational quality, affordability and career earnings to help families find great schools that are truly worth the investment. Stanford University comes in at No. 1 this year, followed by Babson College (last year's No. 1) at No. 2, while Harvard University and Harvey Mudd College tie for No. 6. Ten schools make their debut in the top 50 this year including Carnegie Mellon University, Hamilton College and Stevens Institute of Technology. …

… MONEY's Best Colleges ranks more than 700 schools on 21 measures, assessing quality of education, affordability and alumni success. To develop the rankings, MONEY senior writer Kim Clark and deputy editor Ellen Stark collaborated with Mark Schneider, former head of the National Center for Education Statistics and current president of College Measures. The website PayScale.com provided earnings data for schools' alumni, as well as analysis of those earnings based on what types of majors predominate at the schools. The list underscores that it's not just elite institutions that can deliver a great education and includes many colleges and universities that don't typically show up on “best" lists. Schneider notes, “A school's name isn't everything. Results are….You may be surprised that schools you may never have heard of will give you a better shot at success. …

So, with that explanation and rationale in mind, let's take a look at the rankings. When you go to Money's Web site, you'll see this:

MONEY ranks more than 700 schools that provide great value for your tuition dollar

That's a lot of schools. Here's their Top 10:

1. Stanford University – Stanford, Calif.

2. Babson College – Babson Park, Mass.

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Cambridge, Mass.

3. (Tied with) Princeton University – Princeton, N.J.

5. California Institute of Technology – Pasadena, Calif.

6. Harvard University – Cambridge, Mass.

6. (Tied with) Harvey Mudd College – Claremont, Calif.

8. Maine Maritime Academy – Castine, Maine

9. Amherst College – Amherst, Mass.

9. (Tied with) Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art – New York City, NY

9. (Tied with) University of California at Berkeley – Berkeley, Calif.

I mentioned my main caveat above. You can verify this for yourself by checking the acceptance rates of some of Money's Top 10 here at CampusGrotto.com. Here are four with Campus Grotto's rationale:

Stanford – 5.05% Acceptance Rate

Many college hopefuls wish to get into this highly prestigious school, as seen in the record 42,487 applications to the Stanford Class of 2019. Stanford's acceptance rate reached an all-time low after it sent out 2,144 offers out of 42,487 applications. This 5.05% acceptance rate is slightly down from last year's number of 5.07%. Of the 2,144 accepted applicants, 742 were early action.

Harvard – 5.33% Acceptance Rate

Harvard has been the hardest Ivy to get into for years, and it remains competitive with its lowest acceptance rate ever of 5.33% (down from last year's rate of 5.9%). Harvard offered admission to 1,990 of the 37,305 applications it received for the Class of 2019, with 977 of those being admitted by applying early action. The record high number of applications was an 8.8% increase from last year. More students are also applying early action to Harvard, with a reported 26% increase in this year's admission cycle for a total of 5,919 applicants.

Princeton – 6.99% Acceptance Rate

Home to one of the nation's most beautiful college campuses, Princeton reached an all-time low acceptance rate with the Class of 2019 by accepting 1,908 of the 27,290 applications they received. The 6.99% acceptance rate is down from last year's rate of 7.3%. Of the 1,908 offers, 767 were from early admission in December.

MIT – 8.01% Acceptance Rate

For the first time in ten years, MIT's acceptance rate increased after 1,467 of 18,306 applicants were offered admission to the Class of 2019. MIT is back up to 8 percent after dropping down to 7.7% last year. Of the 1,467 receiving offers, 625 (42.6%) were early action admits.

As I alluded to above, part of the reason these schools (at least the highest ranked ones) may deliver so much money's worth value is because of their financial aid policies. For example, take Stanford, Money's top-rated school. Here's what they have to say about Stanford:

The cherry on top is that Stanford also announced it was expanding financial aid. The university said that no parents with an annual income and typical assets of less than $125,000 will have to pay a single cent toward tuition. The threshold for this aid was previously $100,000.

Stanford also said it will offer free room and board — in addition to free tuition — for those making less than $65,000, raised from the previous $60,000 threshold.

Without financial aid, annual costs for a typical Stanford student run about $65,000, including yearly tuition at more than $45,000. …

Now, that's getting your money's worth! BUT … keep in mind that Stanford rejects 95% of its undergraduate applicants.

To further explain how they arrived at their list of schools, Money offers this peek into their methodology:

To make our first cut, a college had to have a six-year graduation rate that was at or above the median for its category (public or private). We then screened out schools with speculative bond ratings from Moody's and those flagged as having financial problems by the U.S. Department of Education. That left more than 700 schools, which we ranked on 21 factors in three equally weighted categories:

• Quality of Education: Measured by the school's six year graduation rate, student standardized-test scores, the student-faculty ratio, Rate My Professors grades, and the value-added graduation rate, which reflects the difference between a school's actual grad rate and its expected rate, based on the economic and academic background of the student body.

• Affordability: Determined by student and parent borrowing and student-loan default rates (unadjusted and value added), federal data on affordability for low- and moderate-income students, and the estimated average net price of a degree, which takes into account a school's sticker price, tuition inflation, institutional financial aid, and the typical time needed to graduate.

• Alumni Success: This includes early (within five years of graduation) and mid-career earnings data from PaySCale.com, plus adjustments for value added and majors, plus a Brookings Institution skills analysis, career-services staffing and programs connecting students with alumni.


So, if you're in or about to enter the college process, you may want to take a look at some of the schools on these lists. Keeping in mind the main caveat of brutally low acceptance rates, this information can be an informative tile in your college-search mosaic. Good luck!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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