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Princeton, Williams top list of best colleges

The 2014 annual ranking from US News & World Report has changed its methods to reflect new admissions standards and to increase the weight of graduation and retention rates.

By Smart Spending Editor Sep 10, 2013 8:01AM

This post is from Kelsey Sheehy at partner site U.S. News & World Report.

MSN Money PartnerBallooning student debt and lean job prospects leave many questioning whether college is a worthwhile investment. The simple answer: yes.

Image: College graduate (© Alys Tomlinson/Creatas Images/Jupiterimages)In 2012, full-time workers with a bachelor's degree earned an average of $414 more per week than those with only a high school diploma, according to median earnings data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

Statistics. College graduates with a four-year degree were also nearly twice as likely to be employed.

Rising tuition makes choosing the right college more important than ever. The 2014 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released today, are designed to help students and parents make an informed decision.

This year's installment offers data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities, including tuition, acceptance rates, class sizes, graduation rates, average debt of graduates and much more. Eligible schools are ranked on up to 16 different factors, each weighted for importance.

U.S. News updated the methodology for the 2014 rankings to reflect the current state of college admissions and better measure student outcomes. High school class rank, a figure included on fewer student transcripts, is less important in college admissions decisions than in years past. As a result, class standing received significantly less weight in this year's rankings.

We also increased the weight of graduation and retention rates for national universities and liberal arts colleges and extended graduation rate performance, which measures the difference between an institution's predicted and actual graduation rates, to regional schools.

Despite these changes, there was little movement at the very top of the rankings. Princeton University took sole possession of No. 1 among the U.S. News National Universities -- schools that emphasize research and offer bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. programs -– breaking a tie with Harvard University.

Harvard didn't fall far, though, claiming the No. 2 spot.

Williams College tightened its grip on the top spot among National Liberal Arts Colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education and award at least 50%  of their degrees in fields such as English, economics or sociology. The private Massachusetts school claimed sole possession of the top spot four years ago, breaking a tie for No. 1 with Amherst College, and has held it since. Amherst now ranks second.

The top Regional Colleges, schools that grant fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines, also held firm this year. Cooper Union in New York, High Point University in North Carolina, Taylor University in Indiana and Carroll College in Montana retained their No. 1 ranks in the North, South, Midwest and West, respectively.

In the rankings of Regional Universities -- schools that offer many bachelor's, some master's and few Ph.D. programs -- Villanova University in Pennsylvania held onto its No. 1 rank in the North, while North Carolina's Elon University moved from No. 2 to tie Florida's Rollins College for top billing in the South. In the Midwest and West, Creighton University in Nebraska and Trinity University in Texas held onto their No. 1 positions in their respective regions.

While many of the highest-ranked schools only shifted one or two places, if at all, it's a different story outside of the top 20.

Pennsylvania State University, for instance, climbed nine spots in the National Universities rankings, moving from a tie at No. 46 to No. 37, where it tied with Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Pitzer College in California also gained ground among National Liberal Arts Colleges, moving from a tie at No. 43 to No. 35.

College choice isn't just about rankings, though. Cost is also a major factor for most students. President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of finding a school that offers a good value during his recent college affordability bus tour. Students can use the U.S. News Best Value Schools rankings to determine which colleges will give them the most bang for their buck.

This ranking looks at three variables -- the ratio of quality to price, the percentage of all undergrads who receive need-based grants and the average discount off a school's total cost -- to determine which institutions offer the best value in each ranking category.

Schools on this list don't always appear affordable, so students need to look beyond sticker prices.

Vassar College in New York, the No. 6 Best Value School in the Liberal Arts Colleges category, listed 2012-2013 tuition, room and board, fees and expenses at $59,860, but awarded need-based grants to nearly 60% of students that year. The average cost after receiving those funds was $19,470, an average discount of $40,390 off the total cost of attendance.

Other exclusive U.S. News rankings and lists include A-plus Schools for B Students, Top Public Schools and schools with the highest four-year graduation rate.

Regardless of whether students are aiming for an Ivy League education or want to attend a more affordable public university, the Best Colleges rankings provide critical information to help narrow the search.

More from U.S. News & World Report

Sep 10, 2013 9:43AM

I think someone should analyze the top schools that will leave you the most broke.  Yes a degree from college will help in advancing your career, but at what cost,  a 6 figure dept.??   Its my opinion that community colleges offer a much better value for an entry level degree, there after, save your money for an advanced degree from one of the name brands.  Besides,  "Where's the Jobs!!", its easier to get food stamps.

Sep 10, 2013 10:42AM
Sep 10, 2013 10:04AM

My daughter's U.S. Global History Teacher's daughter attends HARVARD University as of Fall 2012.

It's great but all depends on the type of College degree one is after.


College reputation / prestige can only get you so far.   If you have the money

for a Prime Top Notch School and able to make a name for yourself.... Go fo it  !!!


Just remember that attending ANY COLLEGE including those that Rank the Best is no guarantee

you will succeed in the business / working world.


It's your motivation, will power, self-esteem, willing to work hard, staying focused, earning Respect,

able to communicate effectively, and doing the job properly, on-time, efficient, quality and Professional

attitude ... you will then succeed.


No one wants a Snob, B.S., Lazy, Tardy, Bum, Liar, Cheat, Bad Personal Appearance, poor Hygiene,

and has No Common Sense ( Bad Personality Traits) on their payroll.

Sep 10, 2013 9:33AM


Harvard is busy catering to special interest groups so it's no surprise they fell back some and just because someone goes to Harvard-like some of those raunchy "comedians" from Comedy Central, (Cable television channel) doesn't mean they will become shining examples of American pride. When you abandon your core citizens you will lose support.

Sep 10, 2013 11:07AM
I crunched some numbers and since I graduated from college with a MS, gas prices have increased some 700% while college tuition costs have increased by nearly 800%.  Its all about professor's salaries and the number of profs doing reasearch and not teaching.  At University of Texas it was found that 30% of the profs were doing 70% of the teaching.  The other 70% were working on research or glamour and prestige projects for the university.  The poor college student pays the overhead for these clowns through increased tuition costs.  Get rid of the flab and the high overhead for salaries of non productive professors goes away and tuition costs would plummet.
Sep 10, 2013 9:55AM
At $414.00 a week how long does it take to pay off the $300,000.00 that an AB costs?
Sep 10, 2013 10:16AM

The study is flawed from the second paragraph on. They compare bachelor's degree with High School diplomas. How about taking into consideration associate degree programs and Tech school grads. Try hiring a plummer or electrician and see what they charge an hour. 

Where do liberal arts grads get jobs? Burger King? This study is like most studies. They write an article with no real facts and expect you to believe it. Back to paragraph one. The simple answer is not YES. The simple answer is, not anymore. I read an article not too long ago where one college instructor was getting $130,000 a year for teaching one class a semester. There is where your blooming debt comes from. She must have been a "LOCK STEP LIBERAL'.

Sep 10, 2013 9:28AM
Sorry, if you want top quality, it's MIT all the way.
Sep 10, 2013 10:24AM
The criteria for ranking these colleges is unquantifiable.  A better way to rate each school would be to track and rate those that graduate and how their lives have changed since leaving school.  Tuition rates and student debt mean nothing in the real world.  
Sep 10, 2013 10:06AM
It depends on your major and your motivation.  The best college is the students motivation. Also important is the facilities they have for your major. A state college can be every bit as good as an ivy league school. If the school has the proper facilities, a good faculty in the major that the student chooses and the student is highly motivated, you have a winning combination and the school should have a higher ranking for that student.  Check the school out. Ask questions. Did they add any new facilities like a new science building. There are important can give the student the best chance at achieving their goals.
Sep 10, 2013 9:32AM
I'm an idiot, I went to East Tennessee State University, nuff said.
Sep 10, 2013 10:05AM
Sep 10, 2013 11:19AM
What gets me is why people think the college they go to is the ticket to a good career.  They should focus more on grades, their major, and internships.  When they get out of college they should send out resumes all over the United States and be prepared to move. Someone with experience is going to be more hire-able than someone with an ivy league degree.
Sep 10, 2013 10:34AM




A college graduate ONLY makes $ 4 1 4 . 0 0 more per week than a high school graduate ? ? ?   That is only $ 1,656.00 per month.  The average college graduate has more than $2,000.00 debt with interest per month just trying to pay off their college tuition.  And, just think ......they will be paying off their college debt for the next 30 to 40 years. 


Well, this is America .....and the bankers have to make their money somehow. 





Sep 10, 2013 9:48AM
What a complete joke.  It's a great school because they are real competitive in football.  Go down the list and note how many comments have nothing to do with academics, but list other activities and sports as why they are so great.  This is a popularity list.
Sep 10, 2013 11:29AM
Unless you are very wealthy, don't waste your money on these ivy league schools.  The education at good State Universities is roughly the same, if not better in some cases dependant on which professors you select.  The college I attended is irrelevant at this point in my career, experience and professional license's are far more important. 
Sep 10, 2013 9:56AM

IMHO: For way too long, American universities have been liberal hatcheries. Rather than being true institutions of higher learning and open-minded thinking, they've been allowed to spew liberal ideologies to the point where not-like-minded students find themselves seriously conflicted. Often, these students betray themselves by writing papers/essays that do not reflect their true beliefs; rather, they write for the professor and a grade. This is not higher education; this is just a shred short of brainwashing. 

As for tuition: Ridiculous. Colleges pass on increases in excess of the COL year after year after year with the attitude that if you don't like it, don't come here. Like the government, they have no need to justify their expenses. With the government backing student loans, there's a sense that the money is there for the taking. Tuitions of $50k-$60k? Someone please tell me this is justified.

One last question: When a professor authors a book, using university personnel to research, type, edit, etc., does the school receive any financial return? (My answer: it certainly should.)

Sep 10, 2013 10:57AM
Liberal Arts schools shouldn't qualify to be listed as a top school - worthless...
Sep 10, 2013 10:48AM
love it when a money making entity plays highest bidder with a bunch of other money making entities who depend on image for their profit margins.  The article should just read, 'Harvard beat out this year at annual U.S. News silent ranking auction and outdoor chili cook off'.  All the Ivy crap, just a bunch of kids being indoctrinated for four years into the old boys/new girls network of social progressive nonsense.  Where we keep our personal wealth and power and the closed network quiet while pointing fingers at everyone else.  That's how they keep those salaries up there.  And the old boys/girls who don't play ball.... not so much support and end up managing a warehouse in Cedar Rapids showing off that fine piece of paper on the wall.  And don't forget its still....... 80% wealthy and celebrity kids, 10% smart kids with loans, and 10% foreign and minority kids on scholarships.  What a world.
Sep 10, 2013 9:58AM
Interesting that the main factors--at least according to this story--seem to be tuition costs, graduation rates, and the like. Surely U.S. News took into consideration also the achievements of the faculty and the quality of instruction. Or is it just chance that Princeton, Harvard, Williams, and Amherst, all of them noted for those qualities, rated first? Looks to me like a poor job of reporting the survey.
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