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On April 29th, the Brookings Institute released yet another rankings system for colleges -- much like the "Money Magazine" system, this one attempts to rank colleges by their INCOME value per dollar spent.  The results are occasionally shocking and consistently interesting -- read on to learn more.

One thing immediately leaps out about the Brookings Institution's efforts -- they show their roots as a think tank quite clearly in their more rigorous and complete approach to the rankings than certain magazines take.  Their methodology is intriguing, and to Brookings' credit, they do an excellent job of diagraming and explaining precisely how it works on their page.  
Another plus is that this ranking addresses two-year as well as four-year colleges.  Considering 40 percent of Americans wind up at 2-year schools, the subject is well worth a closer look.

So, how about the results themselves?  Unfortunately, Brookings falls into the same trap as all rankings, namely, that they either confirm the biases you already have (US News) or throw them so out of whack that you have trouble taking the methodology seriously, which is more where this one falls.    It certainly does offer an amusing scramble -- how often do you get to see Pacific Lutheran University outrank Yale?  -- but its hard to take such a result seriously, no matter what methodology was used to achieve it.

There's an argument to be made that it is not the methodology but rather the data that is flawed, and that colleges themselves should be held more accountable for their students' outcomes.  We here at Forster-Thomas certainly think that wouldn't hurt, as long as it wasn't carried too far. 

Of course, this ranking, which is focused on earning potential, also lauds STEM degrees and those who earn them.  Although it's safe to say the demand for many liberal arts professions is unlikely to grow, and that STEM appears to be dominant, remember that nothing lasts forever.  The tech bubble could collapse again, and Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT would be tarnished as a result.  The 'hot' field is an 'of the moment' phenomenon -- students ought to pursue the careers and colleges where they can excel -- note that I didn't say the school you "love" -- the schools that challenge them, push them to improve on their strengths and shore up their weaknesses, and leave them with a greater sense of direction and purpose than they had going in.

Perhaps the most valuable thing to come out of the Brookings rankings are their conclusions about what factors are associated with successful economic outcomes, DISCOUNTING existing advantages that the student had going into the school.  Brookings cites the following as being decisive factors:

•   Curriculum value: The amount earned by people in the workforce who hold degrees in a field of study offered by the college, averaged across all the degrees the college awards;
•   Alumni skills: The average labor market value, as determined by job openings, of skills listed on alumni resumes;
•   STEM orientation: The share of graduates prepared to work in STEM occupations;
•   Completion rates: The percentage of students finishing their award within at least twice the normal time (four years for a two-year college, eight years for a four-year college);
•   Student aid: The average level of financial support given to students by the institution itself.  Schools at the top of the prestige ladder do well -- Williams, for example.

For more on this, check out Brookings's site, or just drop us a line.