In ranking the best colleges for 2023, are Ivy schools really a good value? – University Business

Most major rankings services unveiled their best colleges and universities lists for 2022-23 a month ago, each touting their own measures of institutional value. One straggler, WalletHub, recently released its version before the Nov. 1 early-decision deadline, hoping to give students a look at which institutions could give them the highest quality for the lowest prices.
With selectivity and education outcomes as two main variables in its methodology, however, WalletHub’s elite group of 2023 Colleges and Universities looks strikingly similar to its counterparts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, No. 1 on a few other lists, is also WalletHub’s top institution. There are four Ivy League schools in the Top 10, led by Yale (No. 2), Princeton (No. 4), Harvard (No. 5) and Penn (No. 8). Mainstays Caltech (No. 3), Stanford (No. 6), Rice (No. 7), Georgia Tech (No. 9) and Duke (No. 10) also rose to the top.
Despite the amount of aid and grants potentially available at these elites and the significant prestige in attending them, the results almost beg the question, one that editors from WalletHub proposed to experts: Is an education at Harvard or Penn, or at three others Ivys that cracked the Top 20—Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth—really worth the cost?
“It depends. For most students, the answer is no,” says Linda Serra Hagedorn, Professor Emeritus at Iowa State University,  addressing that question specifically about return on investment at the Ivys. “However, for those aspiring to attend an elite institution for a graduate degree, an Ivy League undergraduate degree may deliver a higher likelihood of acceptance. For those wishing to enter politics, or aspire to an elite position with multinational companies like Google, Facebook and others, pedigree is important. However, for most students seeking a baccalaureate degree, an award from an Ivy League is not necessary.”
Alex McCormick, associate professor emeritus at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, said it is more complicated. “This isn’t a simple yes-or-no question. For one thing, a substantial fraction of students at those schools receive financial aid. So, the actual cost to students can vary a lot. ‘Worth it’ is also complicated. It could mean educational benefits, labor market returns, access to grad school, bragging rights and ego boosts, or some combination of these.”
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He says one of the variables that make an institution highly valued is its ability to retain students. Private institutions such as Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Swarthmore, Carnegie-Mellon, Harvey Mudd and Claremont-McKenna all do a wonderful job preparing and seeing through students to graduation. All of them made WalletHub’s top 20, even though retail prices can be quite high. Still, McCormick admits, “It’s a matter of how much students are willing to put into the experience and take advantage of the educational opportunities available” that is typically a difference maker, not necessarily the institution.
Inside the lists
WalletHub’s rankings aren’t just a one-and-done, best-of 200 institutions in America. It used 30 different measures to weigh success and broke out some of them into separate categories to give students a clearer picture of which ones might fit their needs. It also can be a nice way for institutions to gauge where they might be succeeding and where they might need a bit more work.
For all of their brilliance, none of the top 8 institutions even finished in the top 700 in terms of cost and financing—that is, net cost and availability of employment services for students. No. 1 on that list was Chicago State University, followed by Texas A&M International University and Florida Polytechnic University. Several City University of New York schools did extraordinarily well in that metric and also landed near or within the top 100 overall. For students who think they may be able to afford big-ticket schools or even get in, these could be great options.
Several higher education experts quoted in WalletHub’s report touted the value of community colleges and state public institutions. They said the better ones also do a couple of things very well.
“Universities that provide the best return on investment are those that are honest about their net cost of attendance and the potential debt their students incur,” Bianca Elizabeth Vega, assistant professor at Montclair State University, told WalletHub researchers. Universities that spend a healthy amount of time with potential students to discuss the ways they can mitigate potential debt are crucial. The amount of investment universities spend on their student services is an important yet little-discussed area of the student debt/high-tuition equation. Student services provide students with advisors and mentors who can work with students individually to ensure student persistence, retention, and success.”
Which institutions provide the best career outcomes, such as ROI, employment after six months, median salary and debt reduction? WalletHub offered this as a standalone category, and only five of the top 20 schools managed to land in the top 10: Caltech, Penn, Duke, Carnegie Mellon and Harvey Mudd. The rest included RPI (No. 70 overall), Georgetown University (No. 35), Bentley University (No. 137), Bryant University (No. 199) and Kettering University (No. 201).
In its other categories, Caltech was best for faculty resources, New York University earned the top spot for campus experience, and Columbia University was No. 1 for career outcomes. Here is WalletHub’s list of the overall Best Colleges and Universities for 2023:
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