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Forbes 2012 College Rankings: Who Topped the List and Why?

Updated on September 22, 2011

Article updated to reflect 2012 Forbes college rankings.

Forbes Magazine has jumped into the college rankings department, long dominated by the U.S. New and World report. Although best known for their Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, Forbes has garnered a lot of attention in recent years for their list of America's Best Colleges.

The Forbes list of top colleges first appeared in 2008. Unlike the U.S. News, Forbes did not intend on releasing a new list every year. The most recent list came out in 2012; the last was released in 2010. While some critics are calling for more frequent listings from the financial media giant, Forbes may be keeping mum in efforts to avoid some of the attacks launched at the more controversial U.S. News report.

Critics of the U.S. News college ranking lists claim that the publication artificially alters the ranking criteria every year in order to create a different ranking list. These annual changes to the list justify the yearly reports, thus selling more copies.

The Forbes rankings are listed at the bottom of the article.
The Forbes rankings are listed at the bottom of the article.

Forbes Ranking Criteria

The Forbes rankings aim to reflect a greater emphasis on student satisfaction, as well as recognizing academic achievement over name recognition and endowments.

The rankings were determined by the following criteria:

  • Alumni Acheivement - Measured by alumni inclusion in Who's Who In America. (25%)
  • Teacher Performance - Measured by student evaluations on (25%)
  • Graduation Rates - Four year enrollments only. (16%)
  • National Award Recipients - Nationally competitive awards such as Rhodes or Fullbright Scholarships, MacArthur grants, etc. These numbers were adjusted for school size. (16%)
  • Value - Measured by average amount of student debt upon graduation for four-year students. (16%)

Praise and Criticsm for Forbes Rankings

The Forbes list attracted its share of praise and criticism. For many who had criticized the U.S. News lists as a popularity contest, the Forbes list seemed to be much more balanced and fair. While the U.S. News report tended to be dominated with the same large universities, the Forbes list included smaller colleges typically overlooked by rankings list. In addition, the emphasis on affordability in a decade of sky-rocketing tuition costs was a breath of fresh air for many.

Yet the Forbes list did have its detractors. Critics claim that the criteria are too subjective, and not an accurate assessment of true academic quality. Also, the use of the site was seen as flawed data, since student participation is voluntary and often erratic. However, even those who criticized the Forbes rankings were quick to point out that despite its inadequacies, the list was still a beneficial alternative to the standard U.S. News report.

Forbes 2012 Best Colleges (Top 20)

  1. Williams College
  2. Princeton University
  3. United States Military Academy
  4. Amherst College
  5. Stanford University
  6. Harvard University
  7. Haverford College
  8. University of Chicago
  9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  10. United States Air Force Academy
  11. Northwestern University
  12. Claremont McKenna College
  13. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  14. Yale University Columbia University
  15. Carleton College
  16. Swarthmore College
  17. United States Naval Academy
  18. University of Notre Dame
  19. Wellesley College
  20. Colby College



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