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A new ranking of college superstars

Do you have any idea what the following schools have in common?

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Colgate University
  • MIT
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  • Carleton College
  • Washington and Lee University
  • SUNY Maritime Academy
  • Clarkson University
  • Manhattan College
  • Stanford University

These schools -- even the ones you've never heard of -- emerged as superstars in a promising new college ranking system that the Brookings Institution rolled out this week.

These institutions, with Cal Tech being No. 1, provided the best value-added boost to its students' mid-career earnings. Adjusted for the caliber of the students and their majors, graduates from these schools made far more money than would have been predicted.

Cal Tech alum with 10 years of work experience, for instance, earned 49 percent higher salaries than would have been predicted, with the average grad earning $126,200. Grads from Colgate, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, were earning slightly more at $126,600, which is 46 percent more than would have been predicted.

The Brookings college rankings system measures how well alumni perform in three economic measures: mid-career earnings, student loan repayment and what the think tank calls occupational earnings power, which is a fascinating indicator that relies on LinkedIn's massive database.

Uncovering hidden gems

The Brookings methodology generated lists that include traditional rankings darlings like Cal Tech and MIT, but it also uncovered hidden gems. For instance, in the list of schools that provided the greatest value-added boost to their alumni in the occupational earnings power category, here are the leaders:

  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Lawrence Technological University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology
  • Milwaukee School of Engineering
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology

In measuring a school's occupational earnings power, Brookings used data from LinkedIn and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to generate the percentage increase or decrease in the average salary of the occupations in which alumni work above or below what would have been predicted based on student and school characteristics.

Brookings vs. U.S. News' college rankings

In developing its new rankings, Brookings Institution was determined to make them more relevant than U.S. News & World Report's college rankings. While U.S News' rankings are extremely popular, what people who pour over these rankings don't appreciate is that they focus primarily on the selectivity of schools and ignore whether these colleges actually succeed in preparing their students for life after college.

Schools that enjoy the highest U.S. News rankings primarily admit rich, smart students who generally do better in their careers than most college grads. But U.S. News critics (and there are many) say these schools automatically get credit for successful graduates, who may have done well at any college or university that they attended.

In contrast, Brookings Institution focuses on the value-added boost that these schools actually provide their graduates when controlling for such factors as student's wealth, their academic profiles and their majors. Depending on government and private sources, the think tank analyzes the difference between actual alumni outcomes (like salaries) and the outcomes one would expect given a student's characteristics and the type of institution.

Unlike other rankings sources, Brookings looks at thousands of institutions, including two-years schools. You can check the scores of individual four- and two-year schools with Brookings' College Value-Added Data Explorer.

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