By Eric Owens at The Daily Caller
Picking the right college can be a difficult, confusing experience for high school students and parents. If you seek advice from, say, a guidance counselor, that person is likely to wax about academics, reputation and other such conventional wisdom.
Those things are very important. But other things are also critical.
Cost is certainly one of them. The cost of a college education in the United States today is utterly out of control. Colleges and universities have bloated their administrative staffs with droves of useless bureaucrats. They have built palatial dorms and gleaming athletic facilities with climbing walls and Olympic pools — passing the cost right along to you, the education consumer. As a result, America’s college graduates are in debt to America’s bankers to the tune of $1.2 trillion.
This year’s list also captures return on investment, which is another big deal. You want to get a job when you get out of college, and you want to have a successful career that pays the bills and makes you successful however you define it. Return on investment is an especially vital consideration given the perpetually sluggish U.S. economy and weak job market. It’s a problem now. It could very well be a problem a few years from now.
Having a rollicking good time is also critical. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. College has become a four-year (or five-year, of six-year) party. You may as well join the fun. And you should consider the local quality of life. If there’s nothing to do but go to Walmart or you are likely to get mugged, that matters.
You may as well have a good time with attractive people, too. That’s why The Daily Caller’s list of the best colleges proudly features hotness as an integral part of the overall calculus.
TheDC’s list of the best colleges when you consider absolutely everything that matters is below. You can just scroll down, or take a minute to read about the various parts of the list first. (More on that below.)
Overall, there are no fewer than 10 categories. For academics, there is an overall academic rating, a professor-quality rating and a rating for the school’s ability to graduate freshmen in four years (a good thing). There’s also an admission rating. The harder the school is to get into, the higher this rating is.
Beyond academics, there is a social life rating, a student-attractiveness rating, and — new for 2015 — separate ratings for the campus and for the surrounding area. An idyllic, perfectly collegiate campus can be in the middle of nowhere. A dump of a campus can be located in a great place.
There is, of course, a rating for the cost of tuition and fees, which can really vary from school to school, and which can really affect your life later on if you take on a bunch of debt. (Please don’t.)
New for this year is a score for return on investment. For various reasons, certain schools are a golden ticket for the rest of your life. That may be sad, wrong and emblematic of a caste system, but it’s true. If you can, you may as well take advantage of the situation and leverage your future alma mater’s name-brand.
Finally, in a bonus category, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) provides a database tracking the frequently draconian speech policies at most colleges and universities across the country. Shamefully and ridiculously, fewer than two dozen receive a “green light” rating, meaning that the administration does not seriously imperil free speech on campus. Schools on the list receive a well-deserved bonus.
For each of over 350 colleges and universities, TheDC has given each one a score in each category. The scores range between 4.00 and 0.00 — just like a typical grade-point average.
In the list below, these ratings are rounded to the nearest half and presented as star ratings. (Grades of ‘F’ get one star, for visual purposes.)
For each school’s grand total, TheDC just added up each raw score. The University of Virginia is once again the best school in the land, blowing away the competition with a total raw score of 37.40.
The rating for the cost of tuition and fees assumes in-state tuition for public schools. As you certainly know, if you go to a public school in a state where you can’t claim residency, your tuition price is often astronomically higher. Also, cost does not include room and board, books and spending cash. The theory is that these costs are largely a wash because you have to eat, sleep somewhere and buy books wherever you attend college. Obviously, though, the cost of living in, say, Boston, Mass. is considerably higher than it is in Provo, Utah.
For social, life, campus, locale, student hotness and the quality of professors, TheDC has relied heavily on an amalgamation of information at various websites featuring student-generated information about schools. For location and the campus, factual information is also part of the equation.
The overall rating for academics is a composite of student-generated data and hard data.
The data for four-year graduation rates and admission rates is all hard data. TheDC has used data for the most recent year available.
For return on investment, the measurement is a proxy. It’s a combination of the rate of alumni giving and other data.
Interestingly, by the way, the student-generated data appears to be self-inflating over time. Students are giving their professors great marks overall these days, for example. And most students apparently believe themselves and their friends to be attractive.
Finally, again, the raw score is the cumulative raw score for a school’s standing in each of the 10 categories. (Note that there are some ties. It happens but it’s not ideal. The tiebreaker is purely TheDC’s preference.)