What makes a great college or university? Some say an Ivy League reputation, while others focus more on affordability or graduation rates. Now, a new report from WalletHub ranks the top colleges and universities in the U.S. based on 33 key measures.

According to College Board research, average tuition and room and board at a four-year college ranges from $21,000-$48,000 per year. When students and/or their families make that kind of investment, they want to be sure they’re putting their money toward a high-quality education.

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In its ranking, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 higher-education institutions in the U.S. across 33 key measures. The data set is grouped into seven categories, such as Student Selectivity, Cost & Financing and Career Outcomes. The metrics range from student-faculty ratio to graduation rate to post-attendance median salary.

Institutions with the highest admission rates include Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia. Those with the lowest student-faculty ratios include the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Chicago.

Schools with the highest graduation rates include Harvard, Yale, the University of Notre Dame, Princeton, and Columbia University in the City of New York.

The top 15 colleges and universities in the U.S. are:
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
2. Harvard University (MA)
3. Princeton University (NJ)
4. Yale University (CT)
5. Stanford University (CA)
6. California Institute of Technology (CA)
7. Duke University (NC)
8. University of Pennsylvania (PA)
9. Northwestern University (IL)
10. University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (NC)
11. Vanderbilt University (TN)
12. Columbia University (NY)
13. Rice University (TX)
14. University of Chicago (IL)
15. Johns Hopkins University (MD)

The institutions with the highest return on educational investment include:
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2. Harvey Mudd College
3. The California Institute of Technology
4. The Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
5. Stevens Institute of Technology

The research group also asked a panel of higher-ed experts to share their thoughts on five key questions impacting higher education today.

1. Are Ivy League and other “name-brand” schools worth the high sticker price?

“This is a very good question. I have pondered my educational experience and if it was worth the cost? In my opinion, the brand does matter. Students do seem to have the personal and professional experiences that they desire. Having attended 2 large research public institutions, the ‘name brand’ was important.”
–Bryan Patterson, Ph.D. – Chair of Public Leadership Studies Minor, Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy, and Religion, Johnson C. Smith University

2. What types of universities do you think provide the best return on investment?

“Universities prepare students for roles in society and to be self-sufficient citizens, contributing to the communities and regions in which they live. Thus, there are multiple stakeholders who seek a return on their investment. Universities that prepare students for employment through programs aligned with the needs of government, business, and industry are a good investment for those paying for students’ education (e.g., student loans, parents, scholarship funders). Federal gainful employment rules are designed to support this end. Universities that prepare students to be good citizens of the community, region, and the world are good investments for everyone. Learning to live and work with diverse student bodies with varying opinions, prepares students for their life beyond college. I encourage prospective students to consider universities that are the best at preparing them for employment and citizenship.”
–Beth Winfrey Shindel, Ph.D. – Professor, Higher Education Administration, School of Education, Saint Louis University

3. Given that the top 25 universities hold 52 percent of all endowment wealth, should the government consider taxing endowments of the wealthiest universities?

“Absolutely. Such a tax might be dependent upon failure to use part of that endowment to reduce the cost for low-income and historically underrepresented students. For example, a liberal arts college with an endowment of $700M might be encouraged to spend $35M a year (5% of its endowment) on financial aid by such a tax (e.g., the tax would be levied only on the amount of the 5% not expended in such a way – no tax if students are helped directly by the institution; tax if they are not).”
–Allison L. Hurst, Associate Professor of Sociology, School of Public Policy, Oregon State University

4. Should college be tuition-free? How else can we work to make college more affordable?

“Public colleges and universities were close to free for many years in American history. To get back to that period, we need higher taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Even a modest inheritance tax would cover higher education costs. The US produces more goods and Americans own more wealth than at any time in our history, and yet our public colleges and universities are struggling. This is a choice we have made.”
–Allison L. Hurst, Associate Professor of Sociology, School of Public Policy, Oregon State University

5. What tips do you have for a student looking to graduate with minimal debt and great job prospects?

“Spend the first two years at a community college, then transfer to a professional program at a four year school.”
–Donn Weinholtz, Professor of Education; Director of Educational Leadership, Department of Education, University of Hartford

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura http://twitter.com/eSN_Laura


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