Thursday, February 14, 2008

America's Best Colleges and Universities

By Richard Vedder

Our blog offering an alternative approach to evaluating colleges and universities brought about a couple of comments, one so good that we will return to it in a subsequent posting. One defiiciency in our ranking of schools by the number of Who's Who in America entries is we did not control for enrollment variations. Williams College had 26 entries in our sample, less than one-half the number of the University of Illinois --but after adjusting for the huge enrollment differences, the probability of getting into Who's Who is greater for a Williams grad than an Illinois one. Some might argue we should separate the public schools from the private ones, and the universities from the colleges --they are different types of institutions. Accordingly, today, we offer you the top 25 schools in America based on our sample of 5,207 Who's Who entries for 2008. We adjust for enrollment as it was in 1980 -- Who's Who listed persons typically attended college at least a generation ago. The lists follow.


1. Harvard
2. Yale
3. Princeton
4. Dartmouth
5. Columbia
6. Chicago
7. Stanford
8. Cornell
9. M.I.T.
10. Johns Hopkins
11. Cal Tech
12. Duke
13. U. of Pennsylvania
14. Notre Dame
15. Northwestern
16. Georgetown
17. Case Western Reserve
18. Brown
19. Colgate
20. Rochester
21. Rensselaer
22. Rice
23. George Washington U.
24. New York University
25. Washington U. in St. Louis

Some schools rank significant worse on this ranking than the US News one --Washington University in St. Louis is a good example, as is Penn. Others, however, fare far better --Dartmouth, Case Western Reserve, and Rensselaer are examples. Still the very top schools are similar to the US News list.


1. U.S. Naval Academy
2. Cal -Berkeley
3. U. of Michigan
4. U. of Virginia
5. U. of Illinois
6. U. of Wisconsin
7. U. of Arkansas
9. U. of North Carolina Chapel Hill
10. U. of Alabama
11. University of Texas (Austin)
12. Miami of Ohio
13. U. of Iowa
14. U. of Kansas
15. Ohio University
16. SUNY Buffalo
17. U. of Oregon
18. U. of Vermont
19. U. of Washington
20. U. of Colorado
21. U. of Oklahoma
22. U. of Florida
23. U. of Maryland
24. Purdue U.
25. Indiana U.

Here the variations from the U.S. News

1. Williams
2. Washington and Lee
3. Amherst
4. Haverford
5. Davidson
6. Bryn Mawr
7. Swarthmore
8. Oberlin
9. Reed
10. Bennington
11. Barnard
12. Vassar
13. Kenyon
14. Smith
15. Knox
16. Wellesley
17. Trinity (Conn)
18. Wesleyan
19. DePauw
20. Hamilton
21. Union
22. Bowdoin
23. Washington and Jefferson
23. Hobart and William Smith
25. Wheaton (MA)

Here the surprises are even more numerous --but sampling issues make the findings a bit more suspect as well. Is Washington and Lee as good or better than Amherst? Does Knox College rank above Wellesley? Is Kenyon truly in the top dozen schools? Or is Pomona truly way below DePauw, not even being in the top 25? Again, special caution should be taken in interpreting the liberal arts college list because the number of Who's Who entrants was often in the single digits (never less than four, however).

All of this shows that moving to a performance or outcomes based ratings system likely would lead to real changes in the way we perceive some colleges --the top schools --the Harvards, Princetons, the Michigans and Berkeleys, the Williams and Amhersts --will still rank high, but some schools which quietly have been turning out people of distinction might get deserved greater recognition.


Bill said...

Very interesting findings and a great start. I'll reiterate my earlier comment, that looking at this data for a single year is a snapshot--not a study.

To be truly relevant, and to have any validity in shaping public perception much less policy, this would need to be looked at over a generation with other variables relating to Who's Who production also studied such as a school's likelihood to propel 1st generation college students onto the Who's Who list as well as value in the form of the likelihood of Who's Who recognition per tuition dollar spent.

There's a lot of work to do on this before it can be considered anything but a curiosity, but this is a great start and congrats to you and your staff for pursuing this idea.

Steven said...

Is that Wheaton in Massachusetts, Wheaton in Illinois, or were they lumped together?

Cowboy said...

After reading this blog on ranking schools, a few thoughts cross my mind – none of which have any direct relationship to the methodology of producing the ranking. Instead, I was wondering what do rankings have to do with affordability and productivity, and what other information can we glean from the rankings?

What does ranking colleges have to do with affordability and productivity? My guess is that people on the “Who’s Who” list are considered the most productive members of society. But what does this have to do with affordability? Well, in one case it was addressed – intentionally or not.

Let’s have a look at the No. 1 Public University, the US Naval Academy and exclude the other academies (West Point, USAF, and the CG Academy).

The USNA is free for those who are accepted – almost. For 5 years after graduation from the academy graduates must serve at least 5 years of service in the Navy or Marines. But they do get paid.

So for many who are willing and able to serve their country, you just can’t beat this from an affordability point of view.

The system at the USNA turns the system of every other university listed on its head. The academy sets the schedule for cadets (heretofore students). The academy sets the class sequences. The student knows what to expect each day – what they will learn and when they will learn it. A typical student day starts by getting up at 5:00am (I believe) and does not end until 6:00pm. After that, the student is compelled to study if they want to pass their courses. Study time lasts until approximately 11:00pm. During the summer, students are given a duty assignment where they will receive “on the job training”.

I would conclude that those young men and women who attend the USNA are very productive because the rigors of the academy are productive.

So can we conclude that the USNA is the most affordable and productive? Probably. But is it a model that other universities should follow? Probably not. It is so far removed from the traditional approach of “regular” universities. But what it does show is that from the first day of class to graduation the USNA model is probably the most productive and affordable there is. It also shows that not only does the university play a role in productivity, but so does the student.

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