Penn has jumped from 17 to 11 in Forbes’ top college rankings.
The Forbes rankings, which were published last Wednesday, are a product of five primary factors, determined in cooperation with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
The factors include student satisfaction, postgraduate success, student debt, four-year graduation rate and academic success. The information is drawn from sources ranging from graduates’ biographical information to student evaluations from ratemyprofessor.com.
Using this rubric, Forbes evaluated 650 institutions of higher education this year. However, individual schools’ places in this hierarchy have ranged wildly from year to year: Penn has jumped from a low of 83 in 2009 to its highest ranking of 11 in 2013. Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth have seen similar patterns, with Cornell reaching a low ranking of 207 in 2009. It is currently ranked 18 on Forbes’ list.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said in an email, “since we know that colleges and universities do not change dramatically from one year to the next in terms of major financial resources, number of faculty, endowments [and] average graduate salaries … changes in the rankings are probably more to do with methodology than changes in the schools themselves.”
He added that the Forbes rankings, unlike many others, group “smaller liberal arts colleges and national universities [together] … as a way for students to see that although colleges may be very different in terms of size of student body and educational offerings that there is a range of institutions that could potentially be a good fit for the student.”
1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus Steve Goodman, an independent educational advisor and consultant at Top Colleges, echoed Furda’s emphasis on the ranking’s ability to highlight school’s individual qualities and his skepticism of the numbers Forbes assigns.
“It doesn’t make sense that Penn would jump so much in two years,” he said. The jump “points to weaknesses about what it is that the survey is actually measuring.”
Goodman said that a student shouldn’t “just rely on one set of rankings … [because] you wouldn’t just ask one person whether they think you should go on vacation in England, you would assume multiple people would have different opinions. What multiple rankings do is help students think more clearly about what they want in a college.”
For students considering Penn, Goodman said that the rankings reflect a “strength in return on [educational] investment.”
“If you’re looking to maximize your chances of going to law school, medical school or getting your MBA, [the information] cuts in Penn’s favor,” he said.
Despite these criticisms of Forbes’ ranking system, Furda acknowledged the practical importance of a numerical ranking.
“A top tier rank could put a school on a student’s list and absence from a ranking (or a big drop) may make it harder for a school to make the cut for some prospective lists,” he said.
News editor Harry Cooperman contributed reporting.
A previous version of this article stated that Penn and Cornell received their lowest rankings in 2008. The schools received their lowest rankings on Forbes’ list in 2009.
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