The Best Colleges You've Never Heard Of

Last Updated Sep 1, 2009 6:23 PM EDT

Ouch.

Forbes Magazine rolled out its second annual list of America's Best Colleges today and plenty of higher-ed pretty boys didn't earn the sort of blue-ribbon college rankings they usually win.
Dartmouth College (98) got clobbered by likes of Centre College (14) and Wabash College (32). St. Mary's College of California (56) couldn't beat Duke (104) on the basketball court, but in the ratings game it was a slam dunk.

Juniata College (75), which happens to be my daughter's school, handily beat Penn State (324), its neighbor in central Pennsylvania. Lawrence University (41) and Kalamazoo College (52) walloped UCLA (78), Johns Hopkins (173), University of Texas (174), and the University of Michigan (200). And, gosh, what happened to New York University (355) and the University of Southern California (267)?

Here's a big reason why a significant number of obscure schools on the list of the nation's 600 top colleges and universities fared so well: The Forbes' methodology ignores reputation. Instead it attempts to measure the quality of learning that takes place at these institutions. And that's a monumental improvement over the popular rankings that U.S. News & World Report cranks out each year, which focus foremost on reputation.

Forbes' rankings, which were developed by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, used these criteria:
  1. Student evaluations from Ratemyprofessor.com 25%.
  2. Four-year debt load for typical borrower: 20%
  3. Four-year graduation rate: 16.66%
  4. National academic awards won by students and faculty: 13.33%
  5. Salaries of alumni from PayScale.com: 12.5%
  6. Alumni in 2008 edition of Who's Who: 12.5%
Many schools that you have never heard of do an incredible job of educating their students, but they haven't attracted attention because they don't possess an Ivy pedigree or a big league sports prowess or they simply aren't located on the East Coast. Frankly none of that should matter.

So next time you're tempted to assume that a school is great because of its history, its location or football team -- don't.

Further reading. Want to learn more about college strategies? Read more of my posts:

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