50-50 Highlights: Colleges in the Economist's Top 100 College Rankings
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50-50 Highlights: Colleges in the Economist’s Top 100 College Rankings

Colleges in the Economist's Pocket full of money representing Top 100 College RankingsDuring last fall’s college rankings frenzy, I missed the Economist’s first ever contribution to the college rankings. Having taken some time to look over the list and methodology, I think they have something meaningful to contribute to comparing colleges. Like Money Magazine’s Rankings, the Economist is looking at the financial results of a college education. Unlike Money which focuses on the Return On Investment, the Economist’s college rankings are focused on the school effect.

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What does that mean? Assume that you cloned a student. You send clone A to college A and clone B to college B. Ten years after the clones graduate, you compare how much money they’re making. If clone A is making more money than clone B then you would conclude that college A was a better choice in terms of making money than college B.

I’m sure you can already see some of the issues in making such a comparison. What if one school produces engineers and the other is for musicians? What if one takes poorer students or the other only accepts students with high test scores?

The Economist recognized these issues. The rankings used regression analysis to determine how much these various factors accounted for in the ultimate earnings. For example, the rankings include the impact of SAT scores in dollar amounts. At #4 Harvard University, the students’ high SAT average is calculated to contribute $24,209 to expected earnings after 10 years. At #50 Sul Ross State University, a small public university in south Texas, the SAT average actually reduced the expected earnings because they are so low.

The analysis included dollar amounts for fields of study, public/private status, Liberal Arts Colleges, sex ratio, religion, Pell Grants, location, and other factors. Based on these factors, the Economist calculated an expected earnings for the college much the same way that the Washington Monthly and US News Best College rankings calculate an expected graduation rate. The Economist then compared the expected earnings to the actual earning reported in the College Scorecard. Colleges are ranked according to how much they overperformed or underperformed compared to their expected rankings.

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This is why Sul Ross can be ranked 50th. The Economist calculated expected earnings of only $31,208. Yet, according to the College Scorecard, the average earnings after 10 years is $38,000 which means that students overperformed by $6,792.

Of course, there are all kinds of limitations to these rankings and I really don’t expect people to prefer Sul Ross to Yale because Yale only ranked at 1270. However, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to wonder why Yale ranked so much lower than Harvard.

Another issue to consider is cost. Unlike the Money rankings, the Economist’s college rankings don’t say anything about how much the student pays to attend the college. Is the overperformance of $5,000 in earnings after 10 years worth paying an additional $10,000 per year of college?

The list below includes the 32 50-50 Colleges that made the top 100 of the Economist’s college rankings. As usual, the 4 year rate is used for private schools and the 5 year for public.

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50-50 Colleges in Economist’s Top 100 College Rankings

Rank Name Type State Full-time Under-grads 4/5 yr Grad Rate Avg Net Price After Gift Aid (2012-2013) Median Earnings of Students Working After 10 Years Expected earnings Over/ Under
3 Villanova University Private PA 6,547 86 $30,587 $73,700 $60,457 $13,243
17 Drake University Private IA 3,185 61 $26,330 $55,700 $46,904 $8,796
21 Duquesne University Private PA 5,740 66 $25,944 $54,300 $45,866 $8,434
22 University of Scranton Private PA 3,756 75 $32,348 $56,000 $47,567 $8,433
23 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Private IN 2,186 66 $36,613 $78,900 $70,535 $8,365
27 Linfield College-McMinnville Campus Private OR 1,630 59 $26,196 $51,300 $43,123 $8,177
30 Gwynedd Mercy University Private PA 1,851 50 $23,801 $52,000 $44,254 $7,746
31 Fairfield University Private CT 3,546 79 $36,853 $69,000 $61,344 $7,656
37 East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania Public PA 5,495 54 $14,437 $42,900 $35,584 $7,316
39 SUNY Oneonta Public NY 5,675 69 $14,667 $42,400 $35,156 $7,244
40 George Mason University Public VA 17,261 61 $16,155 $57,000 $49,804 $7,196
41 Western New England University Private MA 2,498 52 $29,070 $55,100 $47,943 $7,157
43 Georgetown College Private KY 1,000 49 $19,446 $43,000 $35,926 $7,074
47 Ithaca College Private NY 6,131 69 $32,769 $50,400 $43,533 $6,867
48 University of Vermont Public VT 9,764 75 $15,793 $44,000 $37,139 $6,861
52 Point Loma Nazarene University Private CA 2,483 62 $29,013 $50,300 $43,726 $6,574
56 Susquehanna University Private PA 2,129 71 $27,142 $50,000 $43,788 $6,212
58 Creighton University Private NE 3,815 67 $27,057 $57,800 $54,829 $6,171
69 Clarkson University Private NY 3,084 61 $25,782 $68,400 $62,437 $5,963
72 Providence College Private RI 3,798 83 $34,388 $59,600 $53,691 $5,909
73 Misericordia University Private PA 1,790 64 $24,545 $47,500 $41,649 $5,851
75 Butler University Private IN 3,974 51 $30,991 $52,400 $46,783 $5,617
77 James Madison University Public VA 17,526 80 $14,521 $53,400 $47,839 $5,561
79 West Virginia University Public WV 21,027 53 $9,826 $43,900 $38,414 $5,486
80 Illinois Wesleyan University Private IL 2,001 72 $28,044 $54,600 $49,120 $5,480
81 University of Utah Public UT 17,319 49 $11,702 $49,300 $43,833 $5,467
84 University of Redlands Private CA 2,702 63 $28,164 $53,800 $48,386 $5,414
87 Samford University Private AL 2,850 49 $25,626 $45,800 $40,413 $5,387
50-50 Highlights: Colleges in the Economist\'s Top 100 College Rankings

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