For more than three decades the rankings released by U.S. News and World Report have been used by millions of soon-to-be college students to whittle down their lists. But these rankings don’t tell them what they most need to know: where they’ll stand the best chance of earning enough money to pay off their education. For many students, college choice is as much about taking out and paying off loans as it is about the name that will adorn their sweatshirts.
U.S. News compares an array of data including academic reputation, retention, selectivity, faculty pay and availability, financial resources, and alumni-giving history to help determine how schools rank. For years, many of the same schools have circulated among the top slots, with the top three going to some arrangement of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and other elite institutions such as Stanford, Columbia, MIT, and University of Chicago rounding out the top 10. All impressive, all highly selective, and all very expensive.
In order to help prospective students make more informed financial decisions, The Economist formulated its own rankings. They focus less prestige and selectivity and more on dollars and cents—ranking schools by how much graduates earn. To get their list, they parsed test scores, majors, wages, and many other factors, and came up with an anticipated median wage for alumni of each school 10 years after graduation. They then compared their anticipated figures with the actual median wage of graduates 10 years out. Colleges with graduates who outperformed expected earnings by the most, ranked highest. For many schools, this resulted in a serious shakeup compared to their standing in the more traditional, prestige-based system.