When it comes to ranking universities, the usual players are almost always going to come out on top: The Princetons, the Stanfords, the Yales, the Harvards. They will jockey for those first few spots on whatever ranking you happen to be looking, provided the ranking is at least somewhat reputable and not focused on any particular major or specialization.
Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S. has all the schools you’d expect at the very top: Princeton University at No. 1, followed closely by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (No. 2), and Yale University (No. 3). Stanford, Columbia and Harvard universities round out the top six. (See table of the top 10 WSJ ranked colleges in the table below.)
|7||University of Pennsylvania||PA||89.4|
|9||Claremont McKenna College||CA||88|
But, after changing up its methodology this year, WSJ’s ranking strives to look beyond the big name reputation of the Ivies and the Ivy-Pluses. It gives room for smaller, less endowed schools the chance to rise through its ranks and be measured on the impact they actually have on student success.
BABSON RISES 116 SPOTS
Take Babson College, a small private college near Boston. It ranked No. 10 of the best U.S. colleges after ranking No. 126 a year earlier. The large jump is the result of the WSJ putting more focus on value added to student success as a result of their college of choice.
Babson – a longtime powerhouse for entrepreneurship, No. 4 in P&Q’s latest MBA entrepreneurship ranking – was rewarded for its strong salary impact on its graduates’ careers. It ranked No. 10 in the Salary Impact category and had the fourth highest earnings above a high school grad’s yearly salary at $81,604. In fact, the Class of 2022 set a record for Babson undergraduates, earning $71,385 at their first jobs – a 14% increase over the previous class.
“This top-10 ranking is a clear validation of Babson’s strength in the market, not just in entrepreneurship and business education, but across all of higher education,” says Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. in a press school press release on the WSJ ranking. “This comes at a time when many colleges and universities are facing steep enrollment challenges and broader questioning of the value of a college degree. It is validating to see that the strategic vision that we created together as a community is yielding clear and definitive results for Babson.”
The new methodology also allows room for some public ranked schools to rise to the top 20. University of Florida landed at No. 15 while the New Jersey Institute of Technology ranked No. 19. While public colleges are generally considered more of a deal for students, especially those that offer in-state tuition and generous aid packages – the big brand private institutions, like the Ivies, still wield outsized power in the marketplace.
WSJ has published its college rankings since 2016 along with its research partners College Pulse and Statista. This year, it made some significant changes to its methodology.
For one, it eliminated the academic survey on schools’ reputations which rewards big brand schools superior name recognition. It also no longer rewards schools for the amount of money it spends on instruction.
Instead, it puts more weight on student outcomes such as graduation rates and graduate salaries while measuring the impact schools actually have on student success. “Some colleges doing great things for students who would otherwise struggle have previously received relatively low marks in our rankings. By contrast, some colleges doing less for students who would do well regardless of where they went to school have previously been lauded,” writes rankings editor Harry Carr in WSJ’s ranking methodology.
“For students, we believe this ranking will help them identify which colleges will do the most to help them graduate and make more money.”
As such, the rankings are divided into four categories: The full college rankings, Student Experience, Salary Impact and Social Mobility.
See the full ranking methodology here.
THE 50 BEST U.S. COLLEGES
WSJ evaluated 400 U.S. private and public universities. For its full, overall ranking, it scored each school on student outcomes (70% weight), learning environment (20%) and diversity (10%).
It employed one of the largest independent student surveys and combined it with a “rigorous statistical analysis” of government data to calculate its school scores. It also factors cost of attendance (average net price) against student outcomes.
“As an example, consider our top performer on this metric, Baruch College, where the estimated average net price across four years is $7,744,” Carr writes.
“The additional median annual salary its graduates enjoy over and above that of high-school graduates in New York state is $45,078—so an education at Baruch pays for itself in just two months by this measure.”
Baruch College, a public school in New York, ranked No. 47 in WSJ’s overall ranking. Interestingly, it is one of just 10 public institutions in the top 50 colleges on the list. The first 14 are all private institutions which are typically more expensive, sometimes much more expensive, than public schools.
The full list of WSJ’s 2024 Best Colleges in the U.S. are shown in the table below. The full list is available here.
|7||University of Pennsylvania||PA||89.4||Private|
|9||Claremont McKenna College||CA||88||Private|
|15||University of Florida||FL||84.2||Public|
|17||Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology||IN||84||Private|
|18||California Institute of Technology||CA||83.8||Private|
|19||New Jersey Institute of Technology||NJ||83.5||Public|
|20||Brigham Young University||UT||83.4||Private|
|22||University of Southern California||CA||83.4||Private|
|23||Illinois Institute of Technology||IL||83.3||Private|
|26||Washington University in St. Louis||MO||82.1||Private|
|27||Lake Forest College||IL||81.9||Private|
|28||University of Michigan – Ann Arbor||MI||81.6||Public|
|29||Florida International University||FL||81.3||Public|
|32||University of Notre Dame||IN||81.1||Private|
|33||University of La Verne||CA||80.9||Private|
|34||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||NY||80.4||Private|
|35||University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign||IL||80.3||Public|
|36||Stevens Institute of Technology||NJ||80.1||Private|
|37||The University of Chicago||IL||80||Private|
|38||Texas A & M University – College Station||TX||79.9||Public|
|39||Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus||GA||79.7||Public|
|43||The University of Utah||UT||79.3||Public|
|44||Washington & Lee University||VA||79.2||Private|
|46||University of Connecticut||CT||79.2||Public|
|48||Thomas Jefferson University||PA||78.9||Private|
NEXT PAGE: How colleges rank on salary impact, school experience, and social mobility
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