Unique and accessible commentary provided by the 2014 Forbes America’s Top Colleges ranking


Since 2008, America’s prominent business magazine Forbes has been publishing its own guide to student satisfaction in the US college sector. In characteristic form, Forbes deny they have any interest whatsoever in quantifying the metrics of anything other than student value for money, measured based on 12 key indicators of quality. Working in collaboration with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), Forbes take the innovative approach of basing their core data on student evaluations and self-reported salaries on Internet crowd-ranking sites RateMyProfessors.com and PayScale. Pairing this with graduation rates, the number of student and faculty to receive national awards, and student debt, Forbes and CCAP paint a unique and accessible picture of student opportunity and potential at a precarious point in a young person’s life.

Another quirk that makes Forbes’ table quite appeasing is their reluctance to feature any form of reputational ranking, understanding that the visibility of already-prestigious institutions will supply an obvious obstacle to those lesser-known colleges. CCAP gauges Student Satisfaction, an indication field which is allocated 25% of the overall weighting, through a combined reading of student comments on RateMyProfessor (albeit omitting the student evaluations relating to a teacher’s attractiveness), as well as both actual and estimated first to second year retention rates. The self-reported salaries listed on Payscale.com and alumni who have featured on CCAP’s America’s Leaders List quantify Post-Graduate Success, at 32.5% of the weighting. Student Debt takes up 25% of the overall weighting, with the remaining data given over to graduation rates, academic success, and the number of students who have received prestigious scholarships and fellowships.

With regard to the 650 colleges listed, the Forbes list makes it their self-professed aim to focus on  “output” over “input.” The top 10 of America’s top colleges for 2014 looks like this:

1 Williams College

2 Stanford University

3 Swarthmore College

4 Princeton University

5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6 Yale University

7 Harvard University

8 Pomona College

9 United States Military Academy

10 Amherst College

The data reveals further evidence of the seismic shift currently taking place, not only in US education, but also in the global university sector. As both businesses and research centers refocus their activities towards a student-led call for increased opportunities with regard to graduate employability, and alter their curricula in light of an international shift towards supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, smaller, non-Ivy league institutions are making headway. By paying closer attention to the student experience and value for money, many lesser-known colleges have simultaneously predicted a coming shift away from the liberal arts and towards STEM majors. There is also evidence that many of those institutions that have risen fasted up the national table are those who have invested time and resources into providing for online delivery and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course).

Overall the Forbes list goes a long way to respond to the current climate for quantifying value for money in a sector rapidly spiraling into an abyss of extortionate fees and poor graduate prospects. It is certainly a welcome addition to the college rankings fray, and one that benefits from a no-nonsense methodology that has seen four schools Bucknell University, Claremont-McKenna College, Emory University and Iona College, banned from the rankings until 2015 for falsifying data.