FORBES Ranking

Forbes America's Top Colleges 2019

The first Forbes Ranking was published in 2007 with the aim of measuring the best universities in the USA on the basis of added value for students. For the current ranking, 650 top universities were evaluated.

The initiators of the Forbes Ranking see their main task in taking the students’ perspective and answering the following general question -how does a student benefit from choosing a particular university?

To answer this question, the Forbes Ranking does not analyse the “input” of the universities (number of academic staff, number of high-ranking publications, etc.) but the concrete “output” or “benefit” for the students.

For example, how likely is it that graduates of a university will subsequentlybe successful in their field of study? How are the prospects of earning enough money to pay back student loans as quickly as possible? Is there even the possibility to win Pulitzer Prizes and Fulbright Scholarships? And finally, the most important question, of course, is how effectively does the university support its students so that they can graduate within four or six years and successfully enter professional life?

Important indicators for the Forbes ranking are alumni salaries, degree of indebtedness after graduation, graduation rates and individual success indicators for graduates based on academic and professional awards.

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1Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$14,327Private not-for-profit$7,372$74,800
2Stanford UniversityCalifornia$13,261Private not-for-profit$8,155$79,000
3Yale UniversityConnecticut$18,627Private not-for-profit$4,962$70,300
4Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyMassachusetts$20,771Private not-for-profit$7,530$86,300
5Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$9,327Private not-for-profit$4,451$75,200
6University of PennsylvaniaPennsylvania$24,242Private not-for-profit$7,733$72,800
7Brown UniversityRhode Island$30,205Private not-for-profit$7,794$68,200
8California Institute of TechnologyCalifornia$24,245Private not-for-profit$5,988$84,100
9Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$35,737Private not-for-profit$6,114$71,100
10Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire$30,421Private not-for-profit$6,239$71,500
11Cornell UniversityNew York$31,230Private not-for-profit$8,107$70,100
12Pomona CollegeCalifornia$15,840Private not-for-profit$6,561$63,800
13University of California, BerkeleyCalifornia$15,859Public$6,237$70,700
14Columbia UniversityNew York$24,231Private not-for-profit$10,740$71,400
15Georgetown UniversityDistrict Of Columbia$30,107Private not-for-profit$6,358$66,400
16University of ChicagoIllinois$25,455Private not-for-profit$10,381$64,000
17Northwestern UniversityIllinois$24,047Private not-for-profit$7,024$63,400
18University of Notre DameIndiana$28,768Private not-for-profit$6,600$67,000
19Williams CollegeMassachusetts$22,667Private not-for-profit$4,440$67,500
20University of Michigan, Ann ArborMichigan$14,860Public$6,965$63,500
21Rice UniversityTexas$20,237Private not-for-profit$8,364$71,000
22Johns Hopkins UniversityMaryland$33,586Private not-for-profit$7,036$67,200
23Harvey Mudd CollegeCalifornia$34,464Private not-for-profit$7,236$88,800
24United States Naval AcademyMaryland$0Public$0$80,100
25Swarthmore CollegePennsylvania$20,511Private not-for-profit$8,843$67,500
26Bowdoin CollegeMaine$22,810Private not-for-profit$7,550$61,300
27Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee$19,959Private not-for-profit$8,051$65,400
28Amherst CollegeMassachusetts$22,463Private not-for-profit$5,460$63,800
29Claremont McKenna CollegeCalifornia$26,933Private not-for-profit$4,369$68,500
30University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia$30,232Private not-for-profit$7,747$64,500
31Washington University in St. LouisMissouri$28,540Private not-for-profit$6,088$64,800
32United States Military AcademyNew York$0Public$0$80,200
33University of VirginiaVirginia$20,547Public$7,758$64,500
34Tufts UniversityMassachusetts$32,620Private not-for-profit$6,945$65,200
35New York UniversityNew York$40,336Private not-for-profit$7,526$63,100
36Middlebury CollegeVermont$26,075Private not-for-profit$6,508$60,400
37Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania$31,102Private not-for-profit$6,155$75,900
38University of California, Los AngelesCalifornia$14,309Public$5,912$62,000
39Bates CollegeMaine$25,192Private not-for-profit$7,255$59,500
40Wesleyan UniversityConnecticut$29,956Private not-for-profit$5,744$61,600
41Boston CollegeMassachusetts$34,550Private not-for-profit$3,607$63,600
42Washington and Lee UniversityVirginia$24,761Private not-for-profit$7,284$65,900
43United States Air Force AcademyColorado$0Public$0$76,300
44Wellesley CollegeMassachusetts$23,188Private not-for-profit$4,497$58,900
45University of North Carolina, Chapel HillNorth Carolina$14,163Public$6,452$55,000
46Colgate UniversityNew York$23,310Private not-for-profit$5,654$68,400
47College of William & MaryVirginia$19,720Public$7,636$59,000
48Davidson CollegeNorth Carolina$21,206Private not-for-profit$6,042$57,300
49Haverford CollegePennsylvania$26,607Private not-for-profit$5,356$59,300
50Barnard CollegeNew York$25,007Private not-for-profit$6,093$59,200
51Santa Clara UniversityCalifornia$33,738Private not-for-profit$6,792$69,900
52Carleton CollegeMinnesota$27,898Private not-for-profit$4,737$58,800
53United States Coast Guard AcademyConnecticut$0Public$0$67,300
54Pitzer CollegeCalifornia$28,423Private not-for-profit$4,749$53,200
55Emory UniversityGeorgia$26,760Private not-for-profit$6,434$62,000
56Wake Forest UniversityNorth Carolina$33,382Private not-for-profit$10,352$60,700
57Lafayette CollegePennsylvania$30,820Private not-for-profit$7,070$66,500
58Cooper UnionNew York$14,564Private not-for-profit$5,911$68,500
59Hamilton CollegeNew York$24,140Private not-for-profit$4,802$62,600
60Scripps CollegeCalifornia$30,974Private not-for-profit$5,184$54,700
61Vassar CollegeNew York$23,687Private not-for-profit$5,009$55,400
62Babson CollegeMassachusetts$35,540Private not-for-profit$9,030$72,000
63University of Maryland, College ParkMaryland$18,517Public$8,087$61,300
64University of Washington, SeattleWashington$12,899Public$5,729$61,900
65Georgia Institute of TechnologyGeorgia$13,291Public$7,378$72,700
66United States Merchant Marine AcademyNew York$6,758Public$5,414$80,600
67Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania$34,212Private not-for-profit$8,341$69,500
68University of Illinois, Urbana-ChampaignIllinois$18,377Public$6,686$62,600
69University of Wisconsin, MadisonWisconsin$19,880Public$7,813$57,300
70University of FloridaFlorida$12,345Public$6,118$55,800
71Kenyon CollegeOhio$30,504Private not-for-profit$6,134$55,000
72Villanova UniversityPennsylvania$41,858Private not-for-profit$8,420$65,100
73Bucknell UniversityPennsylvania$40,976Private not-for-profit$9,067$66,700
74Boston UniversityMassachusetts$37,065Private not-for-profit$10,203$61,400
75Colby CollegeMaine$20,739Private not-for-profit$5,000$59,200
76University of Texas, AustinTexas$16,960Public$5,887$60,700
77College of the Holy CrossMassachusetts$34,159Private not-for-profit$6,338$61,800
78George Washington UniversityDistrict Of Columbia$31,956Private not-for-profit$7,247$61,400
79University of California, San DiegoCalifornia$14,630Public$5,333$63,400
80Grinnell CollegeIowa$22,844Private not-for-profit$4,606$53,400
81Smith CollegeMassachusetts$24,829Private not-for-profit$4,284$52,700
82University of RochesterNew York$30,480Private not-for-profit$7,216$61,100
83University of RichmondVirginia$26,264Private not-for-profit$6,794$59,800
84University of California, Santa BarbaraCalifornia$15,764Public$6,053$59,700
85Oberlin CollegeOhio$31,331Private not-for-profit$5,685$53,100
86Macalester CollegeMinnesota$26,865Private not-for-profit$5,865$53,600
87University of California, IrvineCalifornia$13,376Public$5,162$59,600
88University of California, DavisCalifornia$15,737Public$4,971$61,500
89Whitman CollegeWashington$43,488Private not-for-profit$5,395$54,600
90University of Miami (FL)Florida$29,184Private not-for-profit$6,977$56,200
91Southern Methodist UniversityTexas$32,190Private not-for-profit$10,162$59,700
92Colorado CollegeColorado$34,032Private not-for-profit$6,298$53,100
93Worcester Polytechnic InstituteMassachusetts$40,376Private not-for-profit$11,216$73,600
94Colorado School of MinesColorado$25,710Public$8,485$75,600
95Brigham Young UniversityUtah$12,974Private not-for-profit$5,131$59,200
96Brandeis UniversityMassachusetts$31,138Private not-for-profit$6,625$60,600
97Yeshiva UniversityNew York$36,306Private not-for-profit$7,606$63,500
98University of Minnesota, Twin CitiesMinnesota$17,396Public$7,553$57,200
99University of GeorgiaGeorgia$14,625Public$6,283$54,400
100Case Western Reserve UniversityOhio$35,316Private not-for-profit$6,612$66,600

Selection of universities

All universities classified by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as Doctoral Research Universities, Master’s Colleges, Universities and Universities of Applied Sciences were eligible for the Forbes Ranking. In order to guarantee the quality of the analysis, the number of universities examined was reduced on the basis ofthe following criteria.

Universities could only be considered if sufficient data were available. Data sets from the following sources were analysed for this purpose:

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
  • US Department of EducationCollege Scorecard
  • PayScale -private website with a huge amount of self-reported salary data
  • Niche -private website that draws from tens of millions of student surveys.

Universities with less than 300 Bachelor students were excluded (with the exception of Marlboro College, which is distinguished by its scientists).

If the drop-out rate of a university within the first three years is more than 40%, this institution will not be ranked in the Forbes ranking. (The Sweet Briar College will nevertheless be assessed, as this institution was close to closure in 2015 and the data are “unnaturally” distorted for this reason. The Weber State in Utah is also an exception, as this institution has improved considerably over the last three years and is still included in the ranking).

Universities whose graduation rate in the sixth year is below 25% are not included in the Forbes ranking.

The universities are evaluated on the basis of the latest data available at the time of the analysis. If almost complete data sets were available for individual universities and only a few data points were missing, these were estimated for the evaluation of the university.

Assuming these premises, each university was selected and analyzed for subsequent key figures. The key figures were again weighted by the factors listed behind them.


Alumni income -weighting 20%.

The cost of attending a university can be regarded as a long-term investment. For this reason, a distinction was made between “initial professional income” and “later professional income” in order to evaluate the key figure “alumni income” and weighted by the factors 1/3 and 2/3 respectively.

The “first professional income” includes the income earned in the first four years after graduation. The “later professional income” is the income achieved after more than 10 years. These two indicators were determined with the help of data records from the data service provider PayScale. In addition, income data from alumni who received federal subsidies during their studies were also used to determine “later professional income”.

Looking at the entire data pool used to collect this figure, 85% of the data comes from PayScale and 15% from the College Scorecard.


Debt-equity ratio -weighting 20%

Many students at American universities finance their studies with loans. For this reason, the collection of a key figure on the “level of debt” is obvious.

All data for the analysis of this key figure comes from the College Scorecard. The final “debt-equity ratio” is made up of two equal partial calculations. First, a debt ratio was calculated by calculating the average loan debt that students have due to federal loans. This figure is multiplied by the percentage of students who took out a federal loan at the university analyzed. The second part of the ratio “debt-equity ratio” is derived from the two-year and three-year default rates of the federal student loan.


Student Experience -Weighting 20%

The ratio “student experience” is determined on the basis of the assumption that students who believe in the added value provided by the university where they are enrolled remain enrolled.

Two indicators are combined to determine the “student experience” indicator. 15% of the total “student experience” figure is the number of points determined by the IPEDS for the retention of students in the first, second and third academic year. These figures are supplemented by the results of a survey of 90,000 students and alumni. This survey on the quality of professors and student life was carried out by the niche service provider and accounts for 5% of the key figure “student experience”.


List of American Leaders -Weighting 15%

The success of the alumni in the Forbes Rankings is not only measured with the help of the “salary analysis”. The Forbes Ranking also includes the professional careers of graduates in the assessment of a university with the help of a data set determined specifically for this purpose, the “American Leader List”.

The “American Leaders List” is a directory that connects many successful people to their former university. To create this specific database, Forbes uses other lists published by them such as theForbes 400, the Richest Self-Made Women List, the Most Powerful Women List and 30 Under 30.

For the determination of the indicator “American executives” not only executives of the free economy, but also executives of public companies, institutions andinstitutions such as the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, the president and his cabinet, members of the U.S. Congress and state governors are considered.

If a graduate has won any of the following awards in the last four years, he or she will also be judged in this category:

  • MacArthur Scholarship,
  • Nobel Prize,
  • Breakthrough price,
  • Lasker price,
  • Fields Prize,
  • Academy Awards,
  • Oscars,
  • Tony’s,
  • NAACP Awards,
  • Guggenheim Fellowship,
  • great sports all-stars,
  • presidential medals
  • Pulitzer Prizes

In order to consider the size of the various universities evaluated, the “managers” and “prizewinners” were placed in relation to the total number of alumni of the respective university.


Academic success -12.5% weighting

The academic performance of university graduates pursuing an academic career is measured and presented using the academic success indicator. With 6.25% each, the “number of academic awards” and the “average number of doctoral students” are equally reflected in the calculation of this indicator.

To determine the “number of academic awards”, the alumni who have received a Fulbright, Truman, Goldwater, Gates, Cambridge and Rhodes scholarship in their last four years at a university are taken into account.

The last survey of the National Science Foundation of Earned Doctorates was used to determine the “average number of doctoral students”. Based on this, the “average number of doctoral students” who spent their time studying at the respective university wasestimated over the last three years.

Both the “number of academic awards” and the “average number of doctoral students” were put in relation to the number of all students at a university in order to do justice to the size of an institution.


Graduation rate -weighting 12.5%

Universities that support their students in achieving their degrees as quickly as possible, thus keeping the costs for their studies as low as possible and enabling a fast career entry should be recognized in the FORBES Rankings. For this purpose, the key indicator “graduation rate” was determined on the basis of three different factors. All three quota were calculated on the basis of the data pool published by IPEDS for the last three years.

At 7.5 percent, the “four-year completion rate” has the greatest influence. The second and third indicators are the “six-year graduation rate” and the “graduation rates for Pell scholarship holders” (scholarships for economically disadvantaged students), each with 2.5 percent in the key figure “graduation rate”.


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