The Best Private Liberal Arts College May Be….
This week I am traveling to visit several schools in New England. On Saturday I was the guest of a family that has a son attending Centre College (KY). As thanks I am reposting this piece while I travel–Ed.
Those who visit this site frequently read my comments about college rankings. If you’re visiting for the first time, I want to let you know that I don’t take much stock in them, whether they cover large public or private universities, or much smaller public or private liberal arts college.
Too many published rankings take selectivity into account. But selectivity is a measure of demand, not a measure of quality. Suppose, for example, a new car hits the market. Demand for the car is greater than the automaker can fulfill, so great in fact that the dealers return deposits or mark up the price to get more money for the few cars they have on the lot.
But does that mean that the car is high demand is a “great” car? Maybe, but there might be similar cars that are just as good, maybe better. When Consumer Guide or JD Power do a survey of people who took delivery of that car and broke it in, do they give the car bonus points for being harder or more expensive to get? Do they consider it a better car because the dealer and the manufacturer had to turn prospective buyers away? If the car is revealed to have a serious deficiency, is the manufacturer forgiven because so many people wanted to buy one?
Now take that train of thought and apply it to the world of the private liberal arts college.
There are some schools that have always “ranked” highly in most published “rankings.” They’re all very expensive and reject far more applicants than they accept. Such a liberal arts college is typically well-endowed; it can admit and welcome students without concern for financial need. However, those have the greatest desire to attend this liberal arts college typically come from families who can afford to come.
Is that school “better” because it turns people away? Or because it does an excellent job of educating the people who got to go?
If you answered “no” to the first question, and “”yes” to the second, read on. I’m about to tell you which private liberal arts college might be the “best” one in the country.
What can I tell you about this school?
For starters, it’s not located in Northeast, though many people often think that the best private liberal arts colleges are located there.
But I can tell you that this private liberal arts college:
- Has appeared high in every published “ranking,” even those such as Forbes that consider “elite” schools, though it ranks lower when selectivity is a consideration;
- Is one of The Colleges That Change Lives;
- Graduates over 85 percent of a freshman class within four years;
- Does not require students to submit ACT or SAT scores;
- Admits many “very good” (B+ or A-/1150 to 1250 SAT) students as well as excellent ones who could have gained admission to an “elite” Northeastern school;
- Offers those excellent students a chance to earn some of the most generous merit scholarships in the country;
- Appears in the top ten in alumni satisfaction in the Alumni Factor’s rankings, among colleges of all sizes, public and private;
- Hosted two nationally-televised Vice Presidential debates 12 years apart;
- Had graduates in 2013 who borrowed owed, on average, less than $26,000 for their degree;
- Has direct charges (tuition and fees, room and board) that are less than many “elite” schools charge for tuition and fees alone;
- Accepts over 70 percent of the students who apply; and,
- Defeated Harvard in a football game, at a time when Harvard was a national power.
That school is Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, about two hours southwest of Cincinnati and 90 minutes southeast of Louisville.
Centre College the best private liberal arts college in the U.S.? Not Amherst, Williams or Wesleyan?
Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan are all great schools, don’t get me wrong. But they are not realistic options for more than 80 percent of the people who want to go to one of those schools.
Centre College is, and delivers very much the same results. But it gets them with very good as well as excellent students. A great school is great because it succeeds with the students it has. Not because it has turned students away.