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article imageOp-Ed: Money magazine's college rankings need several adjustments

By Calvin Wolf     Jul 29, 2014 in Business
Money magazine is leaping into the college ranking fray, publishing its listing of America's best colleges according to their financial value. While the goal is noble, Money needs to make some adjustments.
Where should you go to college? Americans are understandably obsessed with making the optimal choice about the most expensive, and arguably most formative, two to eight years of their lives. How expensive will it be? Will you enjoy it there? Will you learn anything? And, likely most important of all, will the piece of paper you receive at the very end be worth it?
More and more often, Americans are less than thrilled about the return on their college investment, with expensive degrees turning out to mean relatively little in a tough job market. And, inundated since birth with pro-college propaganda that is thick on culture and camaraderie and thin on financial data, many people feel tricked into overpaying for their higher education. It turns out the expensive, private, liberal arts college with the ivy-covered brick put you in debt for the next 30 years but did not yield any job offers.
But what if one of the famed rankers of colleges, like U.S. News and World Report, published a ranking based on bang for your buck, allowing students and parents to make wiser decisions about where to apply? According to the New York Times, Money magazine is doing just that: Ranking America's colleges and universities based on their financial results, or how much you're likely to earn after graduation versus how much it's likely to cost to graduate.
In a blow to the Ivies, Babson College is ranked as America's top financial college deal.
While Money's goal is noble, I have a few issues with their ranking algorithm. First of all, it excludes the best financial deals of all: The U.S. Service Academies. Four years for free, plus a guaranteed job as a military officer, is a great financial deal. Of course, many students may not want to go to a military university, but the deal should not be overlooked by rankers like Money magazine. Perhaps the Service Academies are often ignored in these rankings because many people falsely assume that all graduates go career military. In fact, many serve their five years as an officer and then embark on fulfilling lives as civilians, using their degree from West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, or the Coast Guard Academy.
Secondly, and most importantly, Money should include accessibility in its rankings. This incorporates the school's size and how many applicants it accepts. Babson College, for instance, is tiny. Many great colleges are tiny and are able to place virtually all graduates in good jobs...but is that realistic for most run-of-the-mill applicants? Also, is the campus easy to get to, and does the school accept many out-of-state students? In short, can the average applicant actually attend?
Third, Money should include versatility in the ranking rubric. If you want to change majors or explore other programs, can you do that? Some schools that are great financial deals are very small and only offer degrees in one or two programs. Larger schools may cost more and not guarantee job placement, but offer a plethora of options.
I attended the University of Wyoming, which I consider to be a good financial deal. It was relatively low cost, large enough to offer just about anything you would want to study, but small enough to still offer (as of fall 2003) deals like child-of-an-alum tuition rates. Its rankings may be tamped down by the fact that it is extremely accessible: Wyoming's ample corporate tax revenue means that its colleges are highly subsidized, allowing the admission of many students who may not be as prepared for college-level rigor.
The average U.S. high school senior, in my opinion, would be better off applying at the University of Wyoming than most of the tiny, one-major colleges which Money has ranked more highly. Though I am obviously biased in favor of my alma mater, my recommendations for Money's ranking rubric hold true. For parents and students looking for better college deals, more needs to be considered than just money out versus post-graduation money in.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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