Behind the ‘Top Colleges’ rankings

Princeton University scored the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ list.

When Forbes Magazine officially releases its “America’s Top Colleges” list this week, it will, as always, be met with controversy.

“People are always going to get angry any time you try to rank institutions. And people get angry ridiculously high up the list,” says Michael Noer, the executive editor of Forbes. “We rank 650 schools. There’s about 2,500 undergraduate schools in the country. Anything in the top 50 is a stunningly good school.”

And while the Forbes methodology is more rigorous than most, Noer concedes that there are unavoidable statistical biases in the rankings.

“Large public institutions do relatively poorly on our list. The reason is that anytime you have, say, 60,000 students, you’re going to have a reversion to the mean,” says Noer. “If you have that many students, some of them are going to do well in life, and some of them are going to do crappy. You can’t do this without creating certain biases.”

Outside perspective

For perspective on the Forbes list, we contacted college admissions expert Steve Cohen, author of “Getting In: The Zinch Guide to College Admissions and Financial Aid in the Digital Age.”

“The Forbes ranking is a vast improvement over the U.S. News and World Report approach.  It considers things that are truly important. There are, however, two problems: First, the inputs are not quite there. For example, ‘Who’s Who’ and are not very good measures of post-graduate success. Similarly, the four-year graduation rate is a false measure. Kids who change majors — and that is 70 percent of all undergraduates — find it almost impossible to graduate in four years.”

Forbes’ top five colleges

1. Princeton University
2. Williams College
3. Stanford University
4. University of Chicago
5. Yale University

Ranking system
Forbes’ list utilizes a system developed by Ohio University economist Richard Vedder. Here are the five most heavily weighted data points:
Student evaluations from
Salary of alumni from
List of alumni in “Who’s Who in America”
Average federal student loan debt load
Actual four-year graduation rate


Video: Car crashes into Cambridge store, man arrested…

A Cambridge man was arrested on gun and drug charges after crashing his car into a Massachusetts Avenue storefront early Saturday morning.


Body found believed to be missing Fitchburg boy…

The body of a child found off of a highway in Sterling last week is likely that of missing Fitchburg boy Jeremiah Oliver, authorities said.


Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…


Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.


'Orphan Black' recap: Episode 1, ‘Nature Under Constraint…

Welcome to your first Season 2 “Orphan Black” recap! Hopefully Tatiana Maslany can help Tatiana Maslany get through this, with the help of Tatiana Maslany,…


Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."


MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win


NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1


MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing


MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox


How to parent without gender stereotypes in a…

Christia Spears Brown, Phd. author of "Parenting beyond Pink & Blue" gives advice on raising kids free of gender stereotypes.


VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.


#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.


Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.