Aug 6, 2011

The Forbes Take on America's Best Colleges

For the fourth consecutive year, Forbes Magazine recently trotted out its sorry attempt to compete with Princeton Review and US News and World Report for attention in the annual rankings wars. And number four is no better, useful, or accurate than numbers one, two or three.

Still it’s embarrassing to see how many publications rise to the bait and run the list. Even more embarrassing are the press releases from colleges basking in the glory of so much as a mention. Without naming names, one local college boasted of landing somewhere considerably north of 200 in the ranking of 650 institutions.

Happily, most of the Forbes top ten colleges ignored the honor and didn’t dignify the list with as much as a web note. In fact, the University of Chicago gave more attention to increases in campus parking fees than it did to its debut on the Forbes list.

Only the US Air Force Academy issued a release earnestly bragging of its ranking as a top 10 institution.

But did they look at the methodology? Even with 16 pages of self-justifying blather, Forbes can’t get beyond the fact that the most of the data used to generate their list has little validity. (17.5%)? (15%)? Who’s Who in America (10%)? And what sense does it make to lump major research institutions with liberal arts colleges in the same ranking?

For the record, is a compilation of opinions shown to be largely from very happy students OR very UNhappy students—not much in between. And, if anyone would bother to look, RateMyProfessors is becoming increasingly obsolete as a rating tool as colleges create and post their own private rating websites (see Stanford's site for a good example).

Equally ridiculous as a serious evaluation tool, invites readers to self-report salaries. Not only is there no possible way to judge the accuracy of this information, but it also usually represents a very small and select group of recent graduates.

And Who’s Who is a vanity listing geared toward selling books.

Interestingly, the folks at Northeastern University took a whack at the Forbes methodology after the university placed close to the bottom of the ranking because of its unique and highly successful co-op program. It’s too bad more college communities don’t publically go after Forbes for the same reasons.

So for what it’s worth, DC area institutions didn’t fare too well on the Forbes rankings. Only the U.S. Naval Academy (17) and Washington & Lee (25) made it within the top 25 “best” colleges in America. UVa (46), Georgetown (47), and William & Mary (49) found places among the top 50.

By the way, the Naval Academy was also named as one of the top 10 “best buys,” in a list humorously biased toward schools charging no tuition.

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