This year, Harvard University regained sole possession of the top spot in U.S. News & World Report's Best Colleges 2011 rankings of national universities. Last year, Harvard and Princeton University tied for first, but Princeton fell to second in the new rankings of these large research-oriented institutions. Harvard was the only school among the top 50 in which 80% or more of classes had fewer than 20 students, indicative of the school's emphasis on creating small and focused learning environments. This marks the 27th year that U.S. News has published college rankings, and, though the worst of the financial crisis seems to have passed, finding value in the increasingly expensive world of higher education is still one of the most important factors in choosing a school. To meet that need, U.S. News has compiled "best value" lists for national universities and national liberal-arts colleges. These lists rank schools based on the average cost of attending -- after need-based grants are taken into account -- relative to their academic ranking.
Yale University, ranked the third-best college in the nation, was judged to provide the most value among national universities -- and the average cost of attending for students receiving need-based aid in 2009 was $13,631, a 73% discount from the total yearly cost of attendance. Our rankings are intended to inform students, not tell them where to go to college. In an age where the price of a four-year education at many of the nations' top schools exceeds $200,000, however, some young people are questioning whether to go to college.
Williams College can once again boast that it's the nation's top-ranked national-liberal-arts college -- a category of schools that place a higher emphasis on undergraduate education -- as it ranked a spot ahead of fellow Massachusetts liberal-arts school Amherst College for the second consecutive year. For 2009, the four-year graduation rate at Williams was 96%, the highest among national liberal-arts colleges.
Unfortunately, it's not clear whether the product they're paying for -- an education -- is getting any better or any easier to evaluate. Numerous studies show that tuition, which has far outpaced the cost of living, has been spent on things other than classroom teaching. Administrative staffs and lavish facilities top the list. If colleges were businesses, they would be ripe for hostile takeovers, complete with serious cost-cutting and painful reorganizations. You can be sure those business analysts would ask: Is the consumer getting the product we promised? What do you actually learn here? Can you guarantee a job or admission to graduate school?
There are ways to gauge these things, but colleges have fended off a movement to demand such outcomes measures.
So while the product has some problems, it also has a powerful argument in its favor: the long-established trend lines showing that people with college degrees earn significantly more money over their lifetimes than those without degrees. Over the years, those with college degrees have earned about double what those with only a high school education have taken in, and the gap seems to be growing, according to the Census Bureau. (Those with professional degrees earn substantially more.)
Recently, there has been some question of whether that gap will remain between, say, a four-year school and a specialized one- or two-year program that teaches a specific skill. What if you invested half your tuition money in the stock market, got a computer-repair certificate and went to work? Would you be better off in 15 or 20 years? Are you willing to take that chance?
Remember, too, that when college critics point to the fact that Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout, they fail to mention that he met some of the guys who helped him start Microsoft in his dorm. (Microsoft is the publisher of MSN Money.) The networking aspect of college should not be undervalued.
Of course, common sense says that college should not be all about the money. How do you put a price on becoming educated? The point of a classic liberal education is to teach you how to think. What's the value of that in a rapidly changing, technological world in which narrow skills can be lucrative one day and obsolete the next? Hiring managers will tell you that creative intelligence and an ability to communicate are more useful in the long term. As is a proven work ethic, which is why persisting through four years of college is an admirable credential in itself.
For these reasons, we think college is still worth it.
Provided by US News and World Report
Posted By O. Cavanaugh