Harvard University tops Forbes America’s Top College 2017 for the first time

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

In their tenth annual ranking of America’s Top 100 Colleges 2018 Forbes finally crowned America’s most coveted and oldest university handing Harvard University their first top spot on the ranking. Wikipedia Commons

There is a new king on the top of Forbes Magazine national ranking of American colleges and universities. On August 2, 2017, Forbes released their tenth annual ranking of America’s Top 100 Colleges finally crowning America’s most coveted and oldest university, Harvard University in the top spot. This year’s top public school is the United States Naval Academy, while the University of California, Berkeley is the top public school non-military. The ranking heavily relies on return on investment with the subheading the 600+ schools worth the investment. The ranking looks at the top colleges but also includes separate lists for Top Public and Private Colleges as well as top colleges in the country’s four regions.

This year’s overall top three represents high school seniors’ university wish list with Harvard number one, followed by last year’s top college Stanford in second and Yale University in third. As Forbes pointed out, Harvard “is the gold standard of American higher education” and it finally “lives up to its reputation and tops the list as the best in the U.S.” Harvard does the best when it comes to the rubrics Forbes uses. Forbes indicates that 87% graduate” in four years and 97% in six years.” Harvard graduates have a “mid-career median salary of $123,000 and a median debt of some $7,500.”

The top ten radically changed from last year’s ranking with Ivy League and major prestigious research universities dominating. The nation’s most selective school Stanford drops from the top spot to second place. Yale moves three spots to the third position. Princeton University drops one place from third to fourth. Rounding out the top five is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which stagnates and remains at fifth. As for the rest the California Institute of Technology, Caltech moves up 33 spots to the top ten, placing in at sixth, as does the University of Pennsylvania into the top ten at seventh, and Duke University is also a new entry at eighth. Brown University is down one to nine while 2015 former top college Pomona moves down four from sixth to tenth.

Forbes also ranks separately, private and public colleges and the best amongst the country’s four regions, Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. The “gold standard” Harvard also tops the private colleges’ list, with “coveted” Stanford slipping to second place. As Forbes points out, Harvard and Stanford “are, undoubtedly, the two foremost universities in the country today and spar with each other for the finest students, professors and researchers.” Yale University is again third, followed by Princeton University in fourth, MIT in fifth and CalTech in sixth mirroring the top six in the overall top colleges ranking list. As for the rest of the top ten, the University of Pennsylvania is in seventh, followed by Duke University (8), Brown (9) and Pomona College in tenth.

The new top public school is the U.S. Naval Academy, beating the U.S. Military Academy, who has held the top spot since 2014, and now slips to second. The top non-military school is public university U.C. Berkeley at third. The public colleges top ten is divided almost evenly between military academies and flagship and research state schools. The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor move up to fourth place and surprisingly overtakes the University of Virginia, which slips to fifth. The U.S. Air Force Academy comes in at sixth falling three spots, the only military academy to do so. In seventh is the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, while eighth goes to the University of California-Los Angeles. In ninth is list newcomer the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, who last year was number 61. In tenth place is the “second oldest” college in the College of William and Mary.

The regional ranking with the highest median on “the overall FORBES Top Colleges list” is the Northeast where the Ivies reside. As Forbes highlights the region is “Home to many of the nation’s oldest and most renowned universities, the Northeast is an academic goldmine. The entire top ten is filled with Ivy League colleges and those Liberal Arts Colleges that belong to the little Ivies. Harvard is also perched atop the Northeast ranking, and with Stanford out of the mix, Yale moves up to second place, while Princeton moves up to third, followed by MIT in fourth and the University of Pennsylvania in fifth. Except for Williams College at the eighth spot, the rest of the top ten is filled with Ivies, Brown (6), Dartmouth College (7), Columbia University (9), and Cornell in tenth.

In the South, Duke University is again the top “Southern College,” after losing the title last year, by falling into second place. Four North Carolina schools in the top ten, but Virginia takes top honors with the most schools in the top 25. Duke is also the only southern school also appearing in the overall top ten. In second place is another private school, Rice University, “the Harvard of the South.” Another private school Vanderbilt University is in third. All three are in the overall top 30, with Rice at number 22 and Vanderbilt at 27. Private liberal arts college, Washington and Lee University is in fourth and Davidson College reaches the fifth spot. The University of Virginia comes in at sixth and is the top Southern public school and one of three in the top ten. As for the rest of the top ten, in seventh place is the College of William and Mary, in eighth is Wake Forest University. In the ninth spot is Emory University and in tenth place is the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

In the Midwest, the top college is the University of Chicago, who ranks at number 16 overall. It has been years since U of Chicago topped the Midwestern schools. Notre Dame University falls to second place after reigning the list in the past two years, Notre Dame is number 26 overall. The list represents a mix of top tier universities and liberal arts colleges, but the top ten only has two public schools represented. In third place is Northwestern University; followed by Washington University in St Louis in fourth and rounding out the top five is Carleton College. The highest-ranking public school is in sixth place with the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. In seventh place is Oberlin College, followed by Grinnell College (8) and Kenyon College (9). In tenth place is public school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Stanford University dominates the Western schools, the country’s most selective university and most coveted tops the list by a long shot. The western rankings’ top three are all in the overall top ten, represent a mix of private, public top tier universities and private liberal arts, and STEM colleges. In second place is Caltech and Pomona College is third. In fourth place is Claremont McKenna College, and rounding out the top five is Harvey Mudd College. The top Western public school is the University of California, Berkeley at sixth place, followed by the topped ranked Western military college, the U.S. Air Force Academy in seventh. Scripps Colleges comes in the eighth spot, while University of Southern California (9) and the University of California, Los Angeles (10 complete the top ten.

In recent years, Liberal Arts Colleges dominated Forbes’s overall ranking, topping the list in 2014 with Williams College and in 2015 with Pomona College and keeping the top ten split with the Ivies up to last year. This year, only Pomona hangs on in the top ten, while the Ivies see the return to the spotlight along with the “highly selective private” universities. STEM and “research-oriented universities” are gaining in the ranking over Liberal Arts Colleges, notably with MIT and Caltech both entering the top ten. Military academies also do well in Forbes ranking with The U.S. Naval Academy surpassing usual top school the U.S. Military Academy for the last spot in the top 20. Forbes also notes bigger public universities are faring better than some of the smaller private schools. The Northeast “dominates” the top 25 with 17 colleges, while the West has five and the Midwest only has two colleges represented.

Forbes like US News weighs graduation and retention rates high in the listing’s methodology. Forbes grades each college on four categories “quality academics and student satisfaction, on-time graduation rates, low student debt and high earning potential and career success. These top ranking schools have the right combination of “age, location, endowment and low debt for students.” Like US News, Forbes is riding the wave of ranking the best value colleges, determining Return on Investment, ROI. Forbes worked with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) to determine “What are students getting out of college.”

Caroline Howard, “Digital Managing Editor, Forbes Media” commented on Forbes’ goals with the America’s Top Colleges ranking. Howard explained, “Before you become a college student, you need to think like a graduate. Our goal is to showcase the colleges and universities that deliver the best return on your education investment dollars: low student debt, on-time graduation, quality academics, high earning potential and career success.”

Forbes’s America’s Top Colleges’ overall top ten:
1. Harvard University (4)
2. Stanford University (1)
3. Yale University (6)
4. Princeton University (3)
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (5)
6. California Institute of Technology (39)
7. University of Pennsylvania
8. Duke University
9. Brown University (8)
10. Pomona College (7)

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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