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Why does U.S.News rank colleges in so many different categories?

Sep. 11th, 2013 | 10:17 am

I wish I knew if they had good reasons to do so. I think it's a way to make 10 colleges have #1 rankings and a 100 colleges have top rankings, etc. That way more colleges are happy with US News and more willing to keep working with them.

What's the difference between National Research Universities and Regional Masters' Universities anyway? What's the difference between National Liberal Arts Colleges and Regional Baccalaureate Colleges?

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching says there's nothing "national" or "regional" about the classifications, and therefore, US News is misusing them. The classifications which Carnegie created, don't rank schools in quality, but show what kind of degrees are available. A research university has to offer a certain percentage of PhD programs while a Master's University can't offer as many, but has to offer a certain number of, as you would guess, Masters degrees.

The difference between liberal arts colleges and baccalaureate colleges has more to do with whether the majority of their students are getting business, education and nursing degrees (or even engineering) or liberal arts degrees. Neither of these types of institutions offer many post-graduate degree programs.

On the one hand maybe it's good that people see a wider range of schools as "good" or "prestigious". On the other hand, it's ridiculous to award some schools rankings simply because they are in a region with fewer than a 100 "better" institutions in their classification. An example is Reinhardt University (Waleska, Georgia) that has a terrible record for retention and graduation and doesn't deserve the misleading label of being ranked as a best college even in baccalaureate colleges where there aren't many more than 50 schools in the South and where rankings are weakest to begin with. (Yes, I have a personal issue with Reinhardt from their dishonest approach with a young relative who attended for one year. Many other schools may have similar problems, but I know of Reinhardt and I know of how few important questions they are willing to answer. Of course, this speaks to investigating well-beyond the rankings.)

There's also the reverse problem. There are powerhouse schools like Villanova, Trinity University (in San Antonio), and Cooper Union that are hidden away on lists that some readers won't even look at. It doesn't seem US News knows where to put Rose-Hulman, so they don't bother to rank it. You only find it on their engineering page, which ranks specialties but offers no statistics to compare.

US News uses the Carnegie Classifications to separate their ranking lists, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning has said that their system was not intended to be used for any kind of ranking. Here is a great piece from Inside Higher Education which explains why the Carnegie Foundation feels U.S. News is making a mess.

Could a regular joe with little to no financial motivation do a better job? Well...probably. I don't like Forbes lists because they use variables that create insane inconsistencies, so they are worse statisticians than someone completely untrained such as myself. But the good thing about Forbes is that they show small colleges to out perform larger universities with regularity, supporting what experts say about choosing small colleges over huge universities.

The article I linked to does say that regional lists might make sense if U.S. chose schools that were truly regional, which Carnegie said could be defined by enrolling students from fewer than 30 states, and not by whether or not a school has a certain number of graduate programs or a certain number of liberal arts or pre-professional programs.

That would likely be more helpful to parents, students, and colleges.

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Alternatives to Santorum as well as Snob College

Mar. 3rd, 2012 | 09:45 am

"Obama wants everyone to go to college!" Santorum accuses. "He's a snob!"

This is the quote:

"President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob"

“There are good decent men and women, who go out everyday to put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. I understand why he wants you to go to college — he wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”

As pointed out by Clutch Magazine, by ABC News, and by nearly everyone, Mr. Santorum not only has a college degree, but an MBA, and a JD that as Thembi Ford at Clutch put it, "have kept him swaddled in economic opportunity."

What is sad is that so many people felt validated and supported by what Santorum said when has ulterior motives. He knows he, and a lot of angry demagogues, receive most of their support from adults who did not go to college. Keeping people from going to college helps him.

It does not help the people who decide not to go to college.

It does not help the working adults who feel validated by his words if their kids do not go to college.

It does not help America if fewer people go to college.

It only helps him.

You've probably heard the statistic that college graduates will earn more than a million dollars more on average than those who only have high school degrees. However, that figure is quickly becoming out of date. What is more alarming and more important to keep track of, is the percentage of people with high school degrees who can no longer earn enough to remain in the middle class or who can earn enough not to be impoverished.

Times are changing, and I certainly can see why that makes people without a college education angry. So many manufacturing jobs are gone, either overseas or lost to automation or the convenience of the internet. That is not going to change, and I have no idea how Santorum could fix that. In fact, he can't.

If you can prove me wrong, Mr. Santorum, do it. You don't need to be president for that. In fact, you shouldn't, because creating that kind of sea change is all you're going to have time for. Instead of President, you would be Savior of the Non-College Educated which is far more important. Seriously, use those MBA skills to actually help people because your country needs you.

Unskilled jobs or jobs that require no more education than high school are vanishing. The people who have those jobs still, have worked at those jobs for years, and who have done excellent work should feel extremely proud.

However,your kids will NOT, repeat NOT turn into intolerable snots who will look down on you if they go to college.

Let me repeat that: College will NOT turn your kids against you. It will NOT make them disrespect you. In fact, supporting them in their dreams will most likely make them respect you and love you all the more.

Here's something I've been reading that may reassure people who think Santorum has a good point that he actually does not: Apparently, less than a quarter of students have the experience that's the popular image of college. The one where the student goes off to Occidental or Princeton or Kenyon or Furman, spends four years playing ultimate frisbee on manicured lawns, hobnobs at fraternities or residence hall or dining hall cliques, and leaves school not only with a strong education but with lifelong friendships and loyalty to the institution that gave him or her that education. That's a bit sad, perhaps, but that experience is not required to have a happy life, is it? And it can be a detriment, as Clutch magazine points out, in cases where that experience comes with astronomical student loans.

The truth is the majority of students are in community colleges and urban four year public schools like the University of Houston or Wayne State or Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond or Brooklyn College. They work more than twenty hours a week in addition to taking classes.

Ms. Ford argues that maybe Santorum has a point that college can't be for everyone. But here's where she's right, and he's wrong. They don't have time to spend four or more years in school because of kids or caring for elderly parents? No problem. First, there are a few places like Western Governors University where you can take affordable online classes that fit your schedule instead of insanely expensive University of Phoenix. Second, community colleges have shorter programs for nurses, electricians, beauticians, pharmacy assistants,and database management - jobs that aren't going away anytime soon if ever.

What? Some students don't have the time or money to finish a program at all? They're doing what they can, taking practical courses like bookkeeping, computer literacy, composition, persuasive writing, and public speaking.

This is not snobbery. This is survival. This is looking out for themselves and their families.

This is not only the future, Rick Santorum, it is the present, AND YOU KNOW IT. Stop saying otherwise.

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Changes in U.S. News Rankings

Sep. 27th, 2010 | 07:03 am

Hmm. So what does everyone think of what US News has done? Now they rank dozens more schools and instead of having four tiers, they only have two.

So far I haven't seen much of a downside although it is a bit misleading to have three-quarters of national liberal arts colleges be considered "Tier One." I guess that's fine, especially since I haven't seen any schools put on some kind of show claiming "Hey! We've improved so much that now we're ranked!"

It's interesting to see where some of my favorite "former second tier schools" are now ranked.

McDaniel #122
Eckerd #137
Guilford #166

Interesting how Bennington is also #122. I wonder if that means if USNews had stuck to last year's model if McDaniel would now be ranked this year or if Bennington would NOT be ranked. Wow, that would alarm some folks in Vermont. Hampshire probably isn't happy to be at #119 either.

As always, it bothers me that Reed is so low. I imagine they couldn't care less though.

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590-590: The Prestige Schools That Aren't Impossible to Get Into 2009

Aug. 9th, 2009 | 03:31 pm

For a lot of people there is something magical about scoring 600 verbal (critical reading) and 600 math. When I was in school, counselors and parents felt that “600 or better” was a good score, and that prestige schools have averages of at least 600 600. For those of us who fall a little below that magic line, there are actually some amazing schools that are still possibilities. That’s the reason for producing the 590-590 list which details the most prestigious schools that fall in our range.

In December 2008, I had a similar list. Since then Smith, Union (NY), and Kalamazoo all bumped up their scores above the 590-590. However, there are many new schools now in our target range. Because there are so many new schools, I’m not going to repeat some of my favorite schools from the last list such as Hendrix, Centre College, Wofford, Austin College, Elon University, Earlham, Southwestern University, DePauw, University of Dallas, Rochester Institute of Technology, Millsaps, Birmingham-Southern, Eckerd, McDaniel, and Guilford. While those are still some of the best schools under 590-590, I’m going to focus on institutions I haven’t mentioned as much. Starting with the toughest admissions standards, we have:

St. Olaf College (590-700 CR 590-710 M): A Lutheran school in Minnesota known for its music program, its study abroad opportunities, and its largely blond student body. Besides music, St. Olaf boasts strong departments in English, economics, and a highly-respected pre-med program.

Occidental College (590-690 CR 590-680 M): This excellent school is one of the few small powerhouses in California. Its known for its friendly environment, its diverse student body which Fiske calls "a thriving community of high achievers", its international affairs programs, and its campus that’s often used by Hollywood filmmakers when they need to shoot college scenes. Considered a school where students work hard and have fun, Oxy probably will not stay below 600 for long.

Furman University (590-690CR 590-680M): I mentioned Furman in this list last year, but I'm going to discuss it again. This is South Carolina's premier school and often grouped together with Duke, Vanderbilt, and Emory as one of the South's finest institutions. Furman provides a conservative atmosphere for industrious students. While no longer a Baptist institution, many Furman students are religious. On the other hand, some do like to party as over 30% of students go Greek. A good place for sweet-natured Southerners willing to work hard, Furman is known for its stunningly beautiful campus and famous swans. Students say academics are fiercely competitive and a large percentage are targeting graduate school. Although called a university, Furman is ranked as one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges and excels in departments such as history, political science, biology and chemistry.

Knox (590-700CR 580-660M): This Midwestern liberal arts college trades places with Kalamazoo in the 590-590 range. With the exception of Grinnell, most of its close rivals, such as Earlham, Illinois Wesleyan, and Beloit, aren't quite as selective, so a large percentage of the students are going to come in with the enthusiasm of getting into their number one choice. It's known for its progressive political climate, close-knit community, and an environment that fosters independent research. The school excels in fields such as math, natural sciences, psychology, and creative writing.

University of Richmond (590-680CR 590-680M): This is a wealthy and highly-regarded liberal arts college with a beautiful campus. It’s known for its leadership studies, its business program, and industrious, fairly conservative students although you won't run into too many Virginians as less than 20% come from in-state.

Skidmore (580-680CR 590-670M): Skidmore is an upstate New York liberal-arts college that competes heavily with many institutes in the area that are usually tougher to get into such as Vassar, Hamilton, Connecticut College, and Middlebury. While known for art and drama, Skidmore also offers strong social science and business programs.

Pitzer College (580-690CR 580-680M): This California school may be a back-up for powerhouses like Pomona and Claremont McKenna, but it’s becoming more prestigious in its own right. Proximity to the other Claremont schools means being able to take advantage of each institution’s strengths. As befitting a school near Los Angeles, Pitzer is strong in film and media programs. However, it’s also strong in social sciences and biology.

Wheaton College (580-680CR 580-670M): This strong liberal arts school is located in Massachusetts and also competes with the same crowd as Skidmore. A women’s college until fairly recently, Wheaton’s strongest programs include humanities and foreign languages.

Rhodes (580-680CR 580-670M): This school in Memphis is one of the south’s premier institutions. This is a school where students work very hard, usually with the goal of going to graduate school. Like most of the SCAC schools, there's heavy emphasis on learning to write well. (SCAC is the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, a grouping based on academic quality similar to the Little Ivies' conference, the NESCAC.) Rhodes is strong in a large number of fields, especially so in international studies, business, economics, the sciences, political science, and English.

University of the South (570-680CR 580-680M): “Sewanee” is one of the more traditional members of the SCAC with students sometimes wearing academic gowns to class, although it seems like the practice is waning. Although admission standards are tougher than they were last year, conservative Sewanee is slightly easier to get into than Wake Forest or Furman, but with the same powerhouse academics found at most SCAC institutions. Its English department is nationally famous. Humanities, social sciences (particularly history), and math are also notably strong. Parents love Sewanee for how safe and protected they feel their kids are at this rural campus with a watchful administration and nurturing faculty. Fun often centers on the Greek system, but schoolwork is the main priority. Financial aid is among the best in the nation.

Denison (580-690CR 570-680M): A couple decades ago, this Ohio college was known as a party school for rich kids. After closing down frat row, the school has begun to earn a reputation as a liberal arts college for intellectually curious students. Less selective and more conservative than area rivals such as Kenyon and Oberlin, Denison provides access to top programs in natural sciences, creative writing, philosophy, international studies, music, and computer science.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland (580-680CR 570-660M): I often tout small public colleges, and here’s one of the best in the country. Yes, it really is a public school despite the name. Known for its social sciences and English department, St. Mary’s is located on the water, and most students learn to sail.

Ursinus (570-680CR 570-670M) This small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania competes with more selective schools like Franklin & Marshall and Dickinson. However, college guides consider academics at Ursinus just as rigorous. It combines the benefits of a small town campus with the excitement of nearby Philadelphia.

College of Charleston (570-650CR 570-650M) Another of the finest public liberal arts colleges in the country, College of Charleston offers strong academics in a beautiful city at a much lower price than Furman or Wofford.

Besides my usual list of favorites, there are some other impressive schools with scorse just below those of the ones I’ve detailed above such as St. Lawrence University, an upstate New York school getting lots of attention for environmental studies; Emerson College, an amazing school for those interested in acting, music, journalism or creative writing; Beloit, a top liberal arts college in Wisconsin; Fordham, a Jesuit university in New York City; Hobart, an upstate New York college whose popularity is heating up; and Hollins, one of the strongest women’s colleges under 590-590.

Rankings While these schools may not be as widely known as the Ivies, here's more evidence of their prestige: University of Richmond, Furman, Occidental, University of the South, Centre College, Skidmore, St. Olaf, DePauw, Pitzer, Rhodes, and Denison are all in top 50 of 2009 U.S. News National Liberal Arts College Rankings.

St. Lawrence, Wheaton, Beloit,Wofford, Earlham, Hobart, Southwestern, Austin College, Hendrix, Birmingham-Southern, Ursinus, Millsaps, St. Mary's College of Maryland, and Knox are all in the top 100. College of Charleston is the #9 master's university in the South, and Rochester Institute of Technology and Emerson are #9 and #15 in the North respectively.

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Analysis of The Forbes 500 List - Flawed but Interesting

Aug. 8th, 2009 | 03:46 am

The new list of Forbes top schools just came out, and for the most part I find it worth looking at if far from perfect. One issue I had: The headline on Shine from Yahoo blared “U.S. Military Academy is America’s Best College! Better than Harvard!”

Then you read the article and see that things aren’t quite so clear. It cites an issue known as “group think” which is going to skew Forbes’ results. Forbes ranks schools on five categories.

1. Graduation rate: How good a school is at retaining students and shepherding them through in four years. This strikes me as a fair barometer. I wouldn’t want to send someone to a school that can’t engage students well enough to keep them or is too tangled in red tape and budget cuts to make sure a student can get the courses she needs to graduate on time. Yes, this hurts big, overcrowded universities, but that’s why nearly all college experts recommend small colleges.

2. The number of national and global awards won by students and faculty: Hmm, okay. This is a little vague, and it favors the richest schools that can attract faculty famous for winning awards even though they may not be great at teaching undergraduates. But okay, I’ll go with this.

3. Student Satisfaction with their Instructors: Okay, this is where “group think” makes things ridiculous. The article quotes instructors from military academies who state they don’t produce independent thinkers or graduates who are good at handling “humanistic, open-ended problems.” While I’m not going to go as far as the concept of brain-washing, I think it’s fair to say there is some unwarranted cheerleading at military academies, some religious schools that focus on a group mentality, and schools like Texas A&M that focus on a cult of personality where not liking the school is a tad treasonous. So this is one variable that strikes me as too subjective. However, what’s interesting is how a lot of schools that do encourage independent thought did very well in these rankings. I just think some schools did better than is warranted, although I suppose it could be argued if a student is happy with his school because of its “group think” atmosphere, that’s still happiness. But is it fair to high school students and their parents to reward schools that turn their students into sheep with high rankings? There is something called the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that is highly regarded for its assessment of the quality of each college’s education (it doesn’t produce rankings nor are the findings made public unless the schools makes them public), so I do know that student satisfaction is seen as a valid measurement by a respected organization. However, we need to know more about how “satisfaction” and “engagement” are quantified by Forbes to know if their findings are compelling.

4. Average Debt Upon Graduation: I think it’s fair to judge certain schools like mine (which I call Bonkley-Foible University) harshly on this front because it’s a very wealthy school and there is no excuse for their graduates to have the debt they do. However, by including the military academies, Forbes has bungled this category. You may not have financial debt, but a student is required to do military service, and that is often grueling and highly stressful. Just because you can’t quantify that kind of debt does not mean it’s not there, so for that reason alone, I have a problem with this ranking system. Other than that complaint, I do think debt is a factor that families should be aware of so if Forbes’ rankings encourage schools to become better values, then power to them.

5. Postgraduate vocational success as “measured by a recent graduate’s average salary and vocational success.” Okay, that sounds great, but again that’s pretty vague. We need more information. How is the study measuring “vocational success”? Is the study taking into consideration if recent graduates go to graduate school instead of going into the workforce? If one student becomes a happy and highly skilled nurse while another becomes a miserable and nearly incompetent doctor, how does that look on a scale of vocational success? Still, I accept this variable as more or less valid because there really aren’t many ways to gauge the quality of an education. Even if money and career status don’t mean everything, if you’re going to bother ranking colleges, that’s one of the few results that really can be measured.

Here is the BIG trouble: Severe volatility in the rankings truly undermines their legitimacy and usefulness. Last year, Westminster College was #39. This year it’s #126. Last year Bates was #45. This year it’s #113. Last year Trinity College was #58. This year it’s #156. There are many more examples. This is a real problem when using these rankings. How are students and parents supposed to know if they’re right this year or last year? Will they finally be right next year? There is no way that a school can drop a hundred places as schools do not ever change that much in a single year. Thus, there is something hugely flawed in their system.

So what useful information can be gleaned from their rankings? Perhaps we can look at some rankings that have been consistent and see if certain findings of other studies that have been around longer have been confirmed.

Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Stanford are all in the top ten. So are Wellesley, Williams, and Amherst. Vassar, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Colby, and Kenyon made the top 25. To me this means that Forbes found that there is validity to other rankings lists and to lists of competitiveness, prestige and reputation at least some of the time. But keep reading…

Only four schools that have freshman classes larger than 3,000 made it into the top 100. (#64 University of Virginia, #68 UNC/Chapel Hill, #73 UC/Berkeley, and #78 UCLA) There are only 11 if you count up to 200. So this reaffirms what most experts say: small schools are better most of the time.

Women's colleges are excellent places to go. The Seven Sisters live up to their reputations. (#6 Wellesley, #31 Smith, #35 Bryn Mawr,, #40 Barnard, #47 Mount Holyoke). But even less highly regarded women's schools did well, too. (#55 Mills, #69 Sweet Briar, #95 Hollins). Men’s school Wabash was 35 and Hampden-Sydney was 54. (Does Hampden-Sydney benefit from rah-rah group think? I’m certain, but not enough to boost it this high.)

Here is something odd: Some of the most prestigious Historically Black Universities didn’t make the top 500 including Spelman, Morehouse, and Howard. I would object but the list does include #309 Fisk and #494 Dillard so perhaps I don’t have the information to know which HBU’s really should be considered the top ones. To be honest, I already had a high regard for Fisk and Dillard, but I am surprised that Spelman and Howard aren’t there.(Correction. Spelman is #238.) On the other hand, what I’ve heard about Morehouse in places like Princeton Review seems pretty negative.

Some powerhouses seemed to be ranked too low. Brown, Dartmouth, U. Penn? I’d like to know why they don’t live up to their reputations, but Forbes doesn’t supply the facts. And by the way, Brown was #27 last year. Why is it #72 this year? I don’t think we can accept this as good, responsible journalism without more information.

Except for MIT and CalTech, prestigious schools known for sciences and engineering that rank highly elsewhere overwhelmingly DO NOT rank highly here, or at least rank much lower than one would expect. This was true last year, too. Examples: #173 Johns Hopkins #267 Carnegie-Mellon #439 Case Western Reserve #472 Rensselaer Polytechnic. (I believe Worcester Polytechnic, Stevens Institute and Rose-Hulman didn’t even make the list.) Why so low? My guess is bad teachers. Princeton Review also marks down these schools because students just do not like their professors. Apparently they are often hard to understand and uninspiring. I know for a fact this was a problem at Bonkley-Foible. Whose to blame? The American government for not encouraging more American youths to go into the sciences. Studies show government cutbacks during past administrations have put us far behind China and India, and if American students can’t understand professors from China and India, it’s going to be a vicious cycle which the government must reverse. Something else that will help? Requiring that individuals going into professorial tracks in the sciences can speak and write English on a college level. I doubt that’s going to be feasible anytime soon though.

Schools that tend to foster a rebellious, anti-establishment vibe still did fairly well even though they promote the near-opposite of group think. (#65 Sarah Lawrence, #131 Bard)

Schools often labeled as high-prestige frauds that really don’t educate had mixed results. #125 Hampshire did fine although it did better last year. Bennington and Antioch, as far as I could tell, didn’t make the 500 at all. (I'm wrong. See correction below.) That reaffirms my belief that Hampshire really does help students who have the maturity to study independently without much structure while Bennington apparently doesn’t. But can I really say that when Bennington was ranked #134 last year? Probably not. (Correction. Bennington is 236.) Antioch has a lot of financial troubles right now, but it is still touted by Loren Pope. I hope Antioch pulls through.

Rankings of some of my favorites: #14 Centre, #26 Union #62 Rhodes, #71 Wofford, #81 Hendrix, #94 University of the South, #101 Millsaps, #114 U. Dallas, #189 Birmingham-Southern, #203 Southwestern University (#133 last year), #259 Guilford, #264 Eckerd, #347 College of Charleston. I'm happy with most of those although I think Southwestern and College of Charleston are too low.

Comments on some of the results:

# 14 Centre College: This school came in very high last year too, and deserves to move into the ranks of the most prestigious schools (in my opinion), and maybe Forbes will make it happen, but I bet it won’t if only because it’s in Kentucky.

#26 Union College: I’ve always thought it was underrated, and (for now) it’s a great way for students who didn’t blow away the SATs to get into an incredible school. (I’m not overlooking the fact that Union was only #99 last year. Confusing, huh?)

#114 University of Dallas: I think this is a great school. I’m glad it got this level of recognition and suspect it deserves more.

#163 Rockhurst University: Not yet a prestige school, but it seems that it turns a lot of mediocre students headed for business or health sciences into real winners.

#190 Texas A&M: I guess you all know I’m not a big fan of A&M, but I am surprised with how low this result is. If it didn’t inspire such loyalty in its ranks, how low would it be then?

#279 Bob Jones University Why is this even listed? It may have apologized for past racial hatred recently, but it still has a very long way to go. I don’t support including such a bastion of prejudice (I quote “It’s okay to be intolerant of intolerance.”), and I’m more than certain that group think is what puts it here. (Please see my note on religious schools below.)

#318 St. Edwards University: I think this Austin school deserves to be higher, but I’m happy it’s included. It’s innovative and, i.m.o., on its way up. It narrowly beat out rival St. Mary's University of San Antonio and its competitor in Houston, University of St. Thomas, didn't even make the list.

#355 New York University: Well, I’m not surprised it’s this low. I’ve often felt that it’s too big and bureaucratic. The surliness of the administration engenders a bad rapport with its customers. On the other hand, I would imagine that a lot of its graduates are now high-earning New Yorkers, so maybe it is surprising it’s not somewhat higher. Rival Boston University only did marginally better.

#487 Auburn: This is another school I’m not fond of, but I’m a bit surprised its so low because it does inspire a lot of loyalty. I’m curious to know where Auburn loses points.

Here are some results that seem much too low.

#72 Brown, #83 University of Pennsylvania, #98 Dartmouth, #104 Duke, #106 Georgetown, #113 Bates, #142 Grinnell, #156 Trinity College, #166 Occidental (was #233 last year!), #170 Furman, #207 Cornell University, #270 University of Rochester, #293 Trinity University, #396 Lehigh

Some that seem surprisingly high: (In most cases, I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if the rankings aren’t deserved.)

#56 St. Mary’s College of California, #58 George Fox University, #66 Doane College, #70 Drew University (although I like Drew a fair amount), #90 Huntington University

I did some research on some of these. George Fox gets group think support, I suspect. After looking up Doane, I am pretty impressed. They have a four-year graduation guarantee, just like Centre College, and they’ve been singled out by Princeton Review, Kaplan, and US News as a hidden gem. So that’s my own lack of knowledge. St. Mary’s was #136 last year, so that's another inconsistent wild card. Huntington is another evangelical Christian university that, again, must get a rah-rah group think boost.

My school, Bonkley-Foible was below 400, and again, I’m not surprised. It’s another monolith that fails to take a keen interest in its students. Considering its wealth and prestige, it should be ashamed of this ranking although, in my opinion, its probably deserved.

A quick note on my views of religious schools: For the most part, I really like schools that have some affiliation with a church. A lot of religious schools foster responsibility and a civic service ethic that is invaluable to society. I’m thinking of places like Southwestern, Millsaps, Austin College, Wofford, University of Dallas and so forth. However, they do not require their students to be Christian and in most cases invite philosophical and theological debate. On the other hand, there are some schools that require students to be Christian (or perhaps some other religion) and seem more interested in indoctrinating their beliefs instead of opening minds. This I’m much less comfortable with although one can’t paint all schools that require Christianity with the same brush. I’m also willing to admit that if we cared to do the research, we’d probably find that in some cases faculty and graduates of these schools do make important contributions in one way or another. Still I object to requiring students to be Christian as it significantly restricts an individual’s exposure to alternate views and values, and I have much stronger objections to schools that openly discriminate based on race or sexual orientation. Perhaps that limits my ability to be completely objective, but as someone who is Christian himself, I’m comfortable that I’m being pretty fair in my assessment.

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How Important is a College's Reputation?

Jul. 7th, 2009 | 05:49 pm

It's not as important as most people think, but there are some points to consider. First, why isn't it all that important?

The Dale-Kreuger Study, done by an economist at Princeton, shows that, financially, students who go to the most reputable schools do not fare better than those who got into those schools, but attended elsewhere. (Why concentrate on financial success? Apparently any other kind of success, such as life satisfaction, is not quantifiable and thus, can't be studied.)

For example, students who were accepted at Harvard or Amherst, but went to, say, Occidental or Kenyon, have an equal shot at big time success. What this shows is what Loren Pope has been saying all along. The top schools do not make their students great. The top students make their schools great. If your child is a motivated and smart student, it doesn't matter as much where she goes.

Now then, what if you're one of the millions with a B average or below? How important is it to go the most reputable school that will admit you, even if it's much more expensive? Well, first, experts will tell parents NOT to sacrifice their retirement for their kids' college no matter what. Students should NOT go more than 20,000 to 25,000 in debt for TOTAL costs. Much more than that, and the student will probably still be in debt by age 30, when many people want to start a family.

Here are some other factors to consider:

1) A school that has a good reputation usually is hard to get into. While that's not important on its own, students who managed to get into tough schools will usually value studying, and your child's peers will have more influence on how seriously he takes academics than anything else.

2) Schools with top reputations are often rich, and wealthy schools can offer world class professors, world class guest speakers, and world class facilities. Please note that this is something that will figure more into an undergraduate education at a small school like Rice or the University of Richmond than a huge public campus like Texas A&M or Ohio State. At the huge schools, much of the time the undergraduates don't have access to the top professors or facilities anyway.

3) While some private college consultants will have you believe that you have to go an elite private school to have a shot at big time success (and that's not true), you most likely shouldn't go to a school that has a "bad" reputation if it can be avoided. What am I talking about? One big California school is known as a druggie campus. An Alabama university is known for giving something akin to fake classes so it can pass its athletes. True, scandals can happen anywhere, but it pays to do research.

4) While I almost always promote small schools, an advantage of going to flagship state school is the alumni network. If you plan to work in Houston, going to U.H., UT, or A&M is probably not a bad idea. A lot of NYU students (I know, that's a private school, but a very big one) do end up with successful careers in Manhattan.

Still, according to studies, the alumni networks and a school's reputation only make a difference in a career trajectory for about five years after graduation. After that, the candidate's track record takes focus.

So here we are again--what's more important than anything? A school that will sharply hone the two most important skills - writing and public speaking. If you get far enough in almost any field, you'll have to do some writing and do some presentations.

What schools are considered the best for this? Small liberal arts schools. If you read the experts, the best choices (that aren't incredibly hard to get into) include Millsaps, Hendrix, Centre College, Rhodes, Southwestern, McDaniel, University of the South, Birmingham-Southern, Wofford, and Agnes Scott. Note that most of these schools are listed in Barron's as "Very Competitive" or higher so even though they do not have the reputation of Yale, they're still highly esteemed by human resource directors and graduate school admissions officers.

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Great Colleges with Late Deadlines

Apr. 6th, 2009 | 01:18 am

It’s April, and decisions are pretty much in. There are going to be some people who didn’t get in anywhere, and there are going to be more people who didn’t investigate their safeties very well and now don’t want to go. Then there are people who thought they’d go to college with a boyfriend or girlfriend or stay at home and go to community college, and now those ideas have been thrown out.

Luckily, there are some top schools with very strong reputations that have late deadlines (honestly, more true of small liberal arts colleges as great small schools have more trouble filling spots than great large schools). Now, I’m sure you realize that the most competitive schools have very early deadlines, rarely later than January 15th, so how can there be good schools with late deadlines? The reason is usually location. Few people think of Arkansas or Mississippi when choosing a powerhouse college.

So, perhaps you’ll see a new part of the country, but a) you’ll almost certainly have more extracurricular, cultural and educational opportunities than you would at community college or Last Chance State University, b) you’ll be with a large percentage of “positive” students who wanted to go to that college and will keep school spirits up instead of bumming about being at Last Chance State (college “aura” is more important than most people think when it comes to striving to do one’s best academically), c) your chances of getting into graduate school are greater if you go to a school that can educate better (through smaller class sizes and better facilities than low-rung public schools) and offer a stronger reputation, and d) you’ll get the necessary transition-to-real-life experience of going away to college that helps students mature which you won’t get at community college.

Here’s a partial list:

(please double-check all deadlines. Some schools have been moving their deadlines earlier as they get more popular and sometimes if schools with rolling admissions receive an unexpectedly high yield of accepted students confirming attendance, they stop admitting.)

Liberal arts colleges:

Birmingham-Southern College: A terrific, conservative LAC (liberal arts college) in Alabama. Known for business, theater/music and for one of the strongest Greek systems in the country. Recommended by Loren Pope (Colleges That Change Lives and John Palladino (Finding the College that’s Right for You. Deadline Open

Eckerd College: A beautiful campus on the Florida coast makes this a hit with water lovers and has a leading program in marine science. Another nurturing school featured in Loren Pope’s books and also touted by educational author Tamra Orr. Deadline Open

Hendrix College: One of the best LAC’s in the South if not the country. Located in Arkansas, it’s a hit with left-wing students, and is especially good at producing politically-minded, socially conscious adults who are well-prepared for grad school. Recommended by both Loren Pope and Jay Mathews (Harvard Schmarvard). Deadline August 1st

Millsaps College: A great LAC in Misssippi. Known for creating great writers and orators, which is excellent for future lawyers, politicians, business leaders, and college professors. Recommended by Loren Pope and Jay Mathews. Deadline Open.

Simon’s Rock: A school often chosen by students leaving high school early, Simon’s Rock is affiliated with liberal powerhouse, Bard. Located in Massachusetts. Deadline May 31st

University of Tulsa: Although as small as a liberal arts college, this top school really offers the diversity of a large university with strong programs from visual and performing arts and journalism to business and engineering. One of the most competitive schools with an open deadline. Deadline Open.

Tech Schools

Illinois Institute of Technology: An engineering powerhouse in Chicago. Deadline August 1st.

Kettering University: An engineering school that has taken a hit from being located in Flint, Michigan. Still produces scores of successful graduates Deadline Open

Missouri Univ. of Science & Technology: A very attractive tech school known for producing engineers, scientists and, most impressively, astronauts. Deadline July 1st.

Rochester Institute of Technology: While a strong school in nearly every program, this is THE school to go to for photography programs thanks to cooperation with Eastman Kodak. Nearby SUNY Geneseo and University of Rochester make for a youthful, educated local population. Deadline Open:

University of Texas/Dallas: A school specializing in computer science, it has the highest SAT averages of all public colleges in Texas including UT/Austin. Deadline July 1st.

Major Research Universities

Michigan State: A true smorgasbord. While heavy with agricultural, business, and education majors, you can study everything from acting and architecture to philosophy and physics. Deadline Open

SUNY Stony Brook: This has gone from a definite back-up school to a top hundred school on the US News list. While Binghamton and Geneseo still reign in New York, Stony Brook holds its own. Deadline Open

Texas Tech University: Despite its name, this is not just a stronghold for the sciences as they have arts, classics, social sciences and so forth. Deadline May 1st.

Catholic Universities

Bellarmine University: Kentucky may seem like an odd place to go to school, but with Centre College, Murray State, and Berea, Kentucky actually has quite strong academics. Bellarmine is right up there, too. Deadline Open

Duquesne University: Often considered a major research university, Duquesne benefits from the cultural and educational opportunities of Pittsburgh and features a strong business program. Deadline July 1st.

Rockhurst University: Located in cosmopolitan Kansas City, Rockhurst is strong in business and health professions. Deadline Open.

Saint Edwards University: Austin, Texas has more than one terrific school, and innovative and engaging Saint Edwards is one of them. A terrific business program is complimented by strong social sciences, humanities and education offerings. Deadline May 1st.

Saint Mary’s University: John Palladino recommends this San Antonio school very highly for mid-range students who need a boost. Deadline Open.

Women’s Colleges

Alverno College: This Catholic school is largely a pre-professional school specializing in business and health professions. It’s located in Milwaukee. Deadline Open

Stephens College: This Missouri school is known for the liberal arts, particularly theater. Deadline Open.

A Mishmosh of Other Schools

Augustana College: An exceptional school in Illinois run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Deadline Open.

Augustana College: Is this a repeat? Nope, this is an exceptional school in South Dakota run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Recommended by John Palladino, particularly for programs in biology, business and education. Deadline August 31st.

Murray State: A small public school in Kentucky that’s reputation has earned it the nickname “Kentucky’s public ivy.” Deadline August 1st.

University of Tampa: Cited in Jay Mathews’ Harvard Schmarvard as a highly-underrated school that’s been a well-kept secret for too long. Good choice for pre-med and business students. Also recommended by John Palladino. Deadline May 1st

Winthrop: A small public school in South Carolina that’s often cited as exceptional. John Palladino gives it high praise as an affordable school good for students interested in both pre-professional and liberal arts tracks. Deadline May 1st.

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University of Rochester not in 2009 Princeton Review Guide to the Best Colleges

Jan. 12th, 2009 | 04:31 pm

This is baffling. Sure there are colleges that might or might not belong in a guide to the top schools, but Rochester is not one of those. By most measures, Rochester is a top 100 school, let alone top 368. I'm curious if there was some fall-out between the two. In the 2005 edition there were some things said about Tufts that I found mildly objectionable, so it's not beyond all possibility that Rochester has some problems with Princeton Review. Hope there's a reasonable explanation and that things resolve themselves. I'll probably review the 2009 Princeton Review guide in the near future.

School to check out: (Can you guess?) U. Rochester

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The Princeton Review Best Value Colleges

Jan. 9th, 2009 | 01:32 am

Princeton Review does a more thorough job with investigating financial aid than the other guide books, so I would think they are reliable when they choose the schools that are good values.

Their full list is here. I'm not the least bit surprised that my alma mater, Bonkley-Foible, did not make the list. To be fair, their major rivals also weren't to be found. According to USA Today, the selections were made based on a combination of academic ratings (based on student surveys on professor availability and engagement, class size, prevalence of teaching assistants) and their record with providing generous financial aid packages. Some very expensive schools (University of Richmond) made this list, but this is exactly the point from the last post. A lot of schools with hefty price tags can actually be affordable once you see the aid packages they'll offer. Just be sure to have a financial safety school.

Some thoughts on the schools:

SCAC schools on the list!

Yep, my favorite collection of colleges was represented by Colorado College, Centre College,Rhodes,and Sewanee. Past years have included Birmingham-Southern and Southwestern University (and I think Austin College). All excellent schools to explore.

Other favorite top colleges of mine on the list

There are many others, but I wanted to point out Bates, Bryn Mawr, Carleton, Davidson, Elon, Furman, Grinnell, Hamilton, Lafayette, Oberlin, Pomona, Reed, Rice, Smith, Swarthmore, Trinity College (CT), Vassar, and Whitman.

I mentioned the importance of small public colleges a few posts ago, and Princeton Review, like Kiplinger, backs that up. Small publics may not have the big football games, but generally they do a better job of educating. Here are some important small public schools on the list:

New College of Florida, Georgia College and State University, St. Mary's College of Maryland, UNC/Asheville,College of New Jersey, University of Mary Washington

Some other institutions on the list that I have a lot of respect for include
SUNY Binghamton (where I almost went to school), University of Tulsa (very underrated), and College of William & Mary (for a major university, it does a ton for undergraduates.)

There were minor problems with the list in my unprofessional opinion. They divided the list into 50 public and 50 private schools. That's a little too convenient. I'm sure there should have been either some private schools that were good enough values considering their academics or public schools with low enough tuition to ensure that an honest list wouldn't be completely balanced.

Secondly, the armed forces academies should be disqualified, and maybe the Olin School of Engineering should be, too. I think free schools should be mentioned, but in a separate category. By including them, you're comparing apples and oranges. I noticed they didn't include Berea or College of the Ozarks, and if you're including free colleges, Berea, in particular, should have been at the very top. If it's excluded because it's only available to people with very low incomes, I think I would still mention the school. It's absolutely a place that people who need help financing college should hear about.

Third, Texas A&M??? Students are certainly happy there, but as a disciple of Loren Pope, I bet he would tell you that, in this instance, happy doesn't necessarily equal well-educated. Graduate programs at this school are usually amazing, but overcrowding at the undergraduate level has been a big problem the last few years. I've heard students say the school is practically hoping freshmen will fail out. (This is not entirely Texas A&M's fault. The top 10% law is making UT/Austin and Texas A&M have to accept more students than they can handle. I'll talk more about this in a different post.)

School for you to investigate: Davidson College

School for me to investigate: Salisbury University (another excellent public school in Maryland)

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Is there a reason to apply to private schools if I can only afford public tuition?

Jan. 5th, 2009 | 10:08 pm

Yes, there possibly is. In this post I'll go over the concepts of gapping, preferential packaging and financial safety schools.

Math is something I'm terrible at, so I'll try to make this as simple as possible. Joe applied to three schools, King University (a reach school), Prince College (a target) and Baronet State (a financial safety). We'll say that total cost at King is 40,000 per year, 30,000 at Prince and 15,000 at Baronet State. So far it looks like Baronet State is the clear choice.

However, Joe's family filled out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)and they found out that their EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is $10,000. It often happens that the most prestigious schools are also the richest, so King University can meet 100% of Joe's need. So King will spot him the $30,000 and he'll only pay the EFC of $10,000. Prince College is not quite as rich, but they can meet 80% of his need. So if Prince costs $30,000 and Joe's EFC is $10,000, that means Prince is supposed to come up with the other $20,000. Since they can only meet 80%, they offer $16,000. Thus Joe will have to pay his $10,000 but he's also been gapped an additional $4000 because Prince couldn't meet his full need. So at Prince he'd pay $14,000. Public schools are rather underfunded these days, so it's not unrealistic to say that Baronet State could only meet 50% of Joe's need. So Joe has to pay the $10,000 EFC plus the $2500 (50% of the remaining $5000 is $2500) he's been gapped for a total of $12500. So in this scenario, the top school is cheapest.

Now let's introduce preferential packaging. Preferential packaging is a way for schools that are fairly rich to get around need-blind admissions and fight for the students they really want by using merit scholarships. Let's say Joe scored a 600 Reading and a 600 Math on the SAT. And we'll say that's about average for King University so those aren't scores King would get excited about. So he still would have to pay $10,000. Meanwhile Prince College's medians are about 550 CR and 550 M, so having Joe would help their freshmen class profile. Even though in the last scenario they gapped him $4000, now that they've looked at his scores, they are willing to fight harder for him and offer a $5000 merit scholarship. So even if Prince can't offer to increase their amount of need based aid, with their merit based assistance, Prince now only costs $9000 a year. Baronet State can't afford to mess around with preferential packaging so in this scenario, it would still cost $12500. A lot of extremely good schools use merit scholarships but a number at the very top only have need-based aid.

Now then, in a third scenario let's say that King and Prince didn't come through with strong aid packages or the packages they received were largely loans. This is why you need a financial safety (such as Baronet State) -- a school that's affordable if all else fails.

Schools for you to investigate:

Awesome schools that sometimes fight for students with merit aid:

Grinnell College
Trinity University (San Antonio)

Some terrific public schools: (Not going to label them financial "safeties" because obviously it depends on your achievements if they're safe bets or not)

SUNY Geneseo (the honors college in New York state)
UNC/Asheville (a great public liberal arts college)
Truman State University (one of the best public schools in the Midwest)

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