More Useless College Rankings

Stop sign in desertI would suspect that the average parent of a high school junior would think it would be nice to know the most expensive colleges in the country so that they can stay away from them. The more astute parents would really like to know which actually have the highest net price since they realize that most students don’t pay the listed tuition price.

So the College Affordability and Transparency Center should be great news for these parents, right? Just a few clicks and they’ll have a list of the most expensive schools to stay away from and which ones deserve an extra look. Finally, a ranking of colleges that provides some meaningful information.

Well, not really.

See, they only rank the top five percent of colleges with the highest tuition and net prices and the lowest ten percent for the same categories. That means that the College Affordability and Transparency Center website will provide you with a list of 33 public four-year colleges and 63 private-not for profit colleges with the highest net prices. How useful is that?

Think about it. There are 50 states and the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories (Guam shows up on the list.) So what are the chances of your state’s public universities showing up on the list? For the record, besides, Guam, only 14 states appear on the highest net price list for four-year public colleges. Based on?  the rankings, one might conclude you would want to stay away from 4 year state universities in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But if you’re not living in Ohio or Pennsylvania, say you’re living in California, how likely is it that you are interested in attending a state school in either of these two states?

The rankings of private institutions isn’t much better. Of the top ten colleges on the highest net price list, eight of them are specialty art schools. The 63 schools on the list represent a total of 20 states.

Wouldn’t it have made sense for the College Affordability and Transparency Center to list all the schools so that people can search them by state-especially public universities? Wouldn’t it have made sense to provide all of the schools so that people sort them by size or major or SAT scores or any of the other dozens of variables they could have chosen from since the data come from the IPEDS database, the same one used for the College Navigator website?

I guess for some reason, it didn’t make sense to the College Affordability and Transparency Center (you can download a spreadsheet with the information for all post-secondary institutions). And I would guess the same reason is responsible for not including the rankings on the College Navigator website even though they use the exact same data. You can compare up to four schools at a time on College Navigator but they still don’t tell you what the average net price was for general comparison purposes.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could search for all colleges that offered engineering majors and a minimum graduation rate and then sort them by net price? Now that just might be a useful ranking for many families.

Given the limited number of colleges listed, I think the “Transparency” part should be dropped from the name.

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