What constitutes a “top” college? Outside the obvious, like BCS ranking and where it falls on Playboy‘s list of top party schools, other important factors come into play like cost and earnings after graduation. But as NPR found out, even experts disagree over how colleges should be rated: In the end, rankings depend more on a student’s personal priorities than anything else.
NPR took up the mantle of college ranking after President Obama walked back a previous pledge to change how college rankings work. Instead, he unveiled the College Scorecard, an extensive collection of sortable data covering over 7,000 schools. The national home of pleasant-voiced news readers then asked 3 different experts to identify the nation’s top 50 schools based on one of 3 student outcome criteria: highest annual income, most upward mobility, and most manageable debt.
Some of the results aren’t surprising — Harvard, for example, ranks in the top 6 for all 3 categories. But other institutions were clear winners in one versus the other 2. Duke, for example, topped the list of schools that won’t drown a graduate in debt, but slipped down to the 20s when it came to helping students from less well-off backgrounds.
NPR points out that simply looking at the top 50 of thousands of schools misses a large part of the picture. “[The] worst performers are arguably more important to spotlight as they are the most proportionately harmful,” they write. Exactly. It’s all about staying away from the University of Unsubsidized Loans, Honolulu Campus — no matter how well their basketball team did during March Madness.