Students who care mostly about money can tilt the formula’s emphasis toward the financial outcomes, and Harvard moves up from 37. But tweak the dials to indicate you care more about happiness and less about money, and it falls to No. 82 (some of the sorting options aren’t yet available on the website).

Still, Alumni Factor has at least one big problem. Despite a promise of transparency, it says little about how it finds the people it surveys and how it questions them, other than to offer assurances the methods are vetted by a Georgia Tech statistician.

Executive editor and CEO Monica McGurk did offer a few details in a telephone interview with the Associated Press, such as the minimum of about 200 alumni surveyed per school. Also, she said the questions cover so many issues that respondents don’t realize they’re being surveyed about their college experience, so they won’t cheerlead for their alma mater.

But McGurk said she couldn’t provide more details without compromising the method’s objectivity. Without knowing how the company finds the alumni, there’s no way for outsiders to judge if they’re really tapping a representative group, or one that’s, say, more financially inclined and successful than the average graduate (the company hopes to sell some of the information back to colleges themselves).

All of which is to say, the rankings game might not be getting much more credible, but it is getting more interesting. Students who (wisely) take the horse-race aspect with a grain of salt nonetheless have some interesting new data to explore in their college search.

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