Forbes College Rankings: Ivies, East Coast Schools Give Best ROI

Posted By Derek Johnson on July 25, 2016 at 1:32 pm
Forbes College Rankings: Ivies, East Coast Schools Give Best ROI

“Value,” a higher-education buzzword, means different things to different people. continues to contribute research on its definition, releasing the latest annual list of top college rankings by value earlier this month. The list is the 9th version of Forbes’ college rankings. The website partners with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and uses Department of Education methodology to weigh many factors used to determine each college’s individual score in the latest Forbes college rankings.

“Like every college ranking, this list cannot quantify the mystery of picking a school: how it connects to a student’s heart and ambitions,” writes Catherine Howard, the author of the piece. “But what it does do is speak directly to those footing a six-figure higher ed bill and looking for a consumer guide to the [Return on Investment] of every college.”

The theme of this year’s Forbes college rankings was “higher ed in transition,” Howard writes, pointing to the development of several long-term trends that are slowly changing the way students view the value of each college and region. In particular, they noticed a small shift toward West Coast schools, with top schools such as Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley seeing larger boosts in applications and admissions when compared with similar East Coast powerhouses such as Harvard and the University of Virginia.

If there has been a shift, it should be understood within the context that East Coast universities still dominate the higher end of Forbes own rankings.  While Stanford University does come in at #1, West Coast schools make up just two of the top 10 and just six of the Top 50 universities in terms of value. Comparatively, East Coast schools make up eight of the Top 10 and a whopping 36 of the top 50.

This comports with other recent research showing that East Coast schools are still among the most popular destinations in the country for college-goers. Last year, an Urban Institute report looked at 2012 Department of Education data and found that East Coast universities – particularly those in the Northeast – had some of the highest percentages of out-of-state students in the country, and many saw significant to robust increases in enrollment over that time compared to the rest of the country.

Ivies in a league of their own

Forbes is a finance and wealth website, and Forbes college rankings a premium on schools that yield high-paying jobs after graduation or ones that breed a high number of top entrepreneurs and economic innovators. The rankings use a variety of statistics and metrics to calculate each college’s score: graduation rates, retention, post-graduation salary averages, student debt load and student satisfaction.

Given these metrics, it’s not a surprise to see Ivy League schools peppered throughout the top of the list. Of the eight Ivy League universities (Princeton, Brown, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania), seven rank among Forbes’ top 20. Though students typically pay top dollar to attend these schools (almost all charge between $45,000 $63,000 a year for tuition), Ivy League graduates see financial returns on their investment that are without parallel in the rest of higher education.

According to data released by the Department of Education last year, the median starting salary for an Ivy League graduate ($70,000) is nearly twice as much as the median starting salary for all other college grads ($34,000). Furthermore, as this graphic from Washington Post’s Wonkblog illustrates, Ivy League graduates in the bottom 25 percentile of starting salaries still earn more than all but the top 25 percent of graduates from all other universities:

That’s not all. When it comes to long-term wealth building, the disparity is even greater. Ten years after graduating, the top earners from Ivy League schools pull in more than $200,000 a year, nearly three times that of top earners from other schools ($70,000).

In addition, attending a university filled with other wealthy, smart or connected peers may also have its own inherent value. Multiple studies and surveys have shown that personal connections are one of the most important factors in getting hired. A 2015 article by the Pew Research Center found that nearly half (45 percent) of Americans seeking new jobs in the past two years leveraged personal or professional connections in the process.

A Commonwealth of top schools

If there is one state where Forbes college rankings has school administrators doing jumping jacks of joy, it might be Massachusetts (officially a commonwealth). Five of the top 20 schools listed by Forbes reside in The Old Colony State: Williams College (#2), Harvard (#4), MIT (#5), Amherst (#12) and Tufts University (#18). Harvard is an Ivy League institution while the Massachusetts Institute for Technology has for the past four years been cited by college ranking organization QS as the top university not just in America, but in the entire world.

In addition to the financial benefits of their universities, a close proximity to tourism magnets such as Boston and New York, vacation spots including Cape Cod and easy access to Canada and the I-95 East Coast corridor are all reasons given by QS for making Massachusetts an attractive destination for college-goers.

It’s also probably not a coincidence that Massachusetts and other East Coast states have an advantage over other regions in America when it comes to certain prestige rankings. Historically, states from the original 13 U.S. colonies were the birthplace of higher education in America, and many prestigious universities on the East Coast have had a decades-long (and in some cases centuries-long) head start on their western counterparts. For example, Harvard University was originally founded in 1632, while Stanford University didn’t come along until 1885, when there was sufficient railroad infrastructure in place to allow widespread migration to West Coast.

However, the latest Forbes college rankings indicate that the tide is (slowly) starting to turn in this regard, as West Coast schools are becoming a larger part of the makeup of their top 660 schools.

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson is a writer, journalist and editor based out of Virginia. He received a Master’s degree in Public Policy at George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University.

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