The ‘Best’ School in the U.S. News Best Colleges Guide
The good stuff in the U.S. News Best Colleges guide is not in the rankings.
It’s early in the book, pages 16 through 25. The chapter is called Headed for Success. In this chapter you find out which schools appearing in the U.S. News Best Colleges guide have the best programs for:
- First-Year Experience
- Learning Communities
- Internship Programs
- Study Abroad
- Undergraduate Research
- Service Learning
- Writing In the Disciplines
- Senior Capstone Projects
The best schools in each category were reported by college presidents, chief academic officers and admissions deans. It had to be hard for them to recommend other schools practices without touting their own. Virtually every residential college in the United States offers each one of these programs, though some run them better than others. That makes sense. Colleges are communities that are run by people that have many services that are performed by people.
A school would have to be quite good if it appears on several of these lists.
That school would be shown to have the best practices in these programs–and these programs directly serve the students who attend these schools.
There are nine categories in the section of the U.S. News Best Colleges guide.
Only one school appeared in as many as eight.
That school was Elon University in North Carolina.
The large research universities that appeared most often: Stanford and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. each appeared in five categories.
The selective liberal arts college that appeared most often: Carleton College (MN) got three mentions.
I have been to Stanford. It gets all A’s with me as a university. If someone were to say the same about the University of Michigan I wouldn’t argue, though I’ll never root for their football team. Carleton is an excellent selective liberal arts college. But it did not fare well on the Federal College Scorecard when it came to average salaries for a selective school. That proves the idiocy of having a Federal College Scorecard based on salaries.
But I could make an argument that Elon University might be the best private university in the United States.
Because it ranks high in all these programs, even though they’re based on what university officials think?
Yes. Because it takes a lot for the people who complete these surveys to acknowledge a school that no one would consider to be “elite.”
Last year, using the data from the 2016 U.S. News Best Colleges guide, Elon University accepted more than half of the students who applied. The middle 50 percent of these students scored between 1130 and 1320 on the SAT, lower than students at schools such as Davidson, Duke, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill, even North Carolina State. Just over a fifth of Elon students come from North Carolina. That’s no surprise given the good public schools in the Tarheel State. Georgia has generous scholarship programs, so does Florida to keep their students home. It’s doubtful that those states are sending as many new students to Elon as states such as California, Illinois, New Jersey or New York.
Elon ranks first among Regional Universities in the South. No doubt it should with its high ratings in services that matter to students. It retains 90 percent of a freshman class each year. That’s very good. But there are state universities that do the same. The difference is that 76 percent finished on time. Only four state schools do better, and they (University of Virginia, University of Michigan, William and Mary and UNC-Chapel Hill) are far more selective than Elon.
Then there’s costs. This year Elon has a sticker price of just over $43,100 for tuition and fees, room and board. That’s less than UNC-Chapel Hill, a bargain for North Carolina residents, charges out-of-state students (approximately $44,500). Elon gets nearly 80 percent of its students from other states; it’s the exact reverse for Chapel Hill. Elon also charges less for tuition and fees, room and board than Virginia or Michigan charge for out-of-state tuition and fees alone.
Elon has an undergraduate student body of 5,600, about the same size as Princeton’s. Elon does not get Princeton’s students, yet it offers quality student programing for a lot less money. It’s possible that the people who run those programs work for less in North Carolina than they would earn in New Jersey. But it also says a lot that they either stay where they are, or they are well prepared to bring best practices to other colleges.
If you don’t believe that Elon might be the best private university in the country, taking selectivity and test scores aside, then ask the people who filled out the survey for this year’s U.S. News Best Colleges guide. They gave Elon those ratings.