Economist ranks UChicago below peer institutions for “best value”

The College ranked 1151 out of 1275 universities included in the ranking, based upon “best value.”

By Katherine Vega

The Economist has ranked the University of Chicago 1151st out of 1275 institutions for “best value” on its first-ever list of college rankings, released October 29.

Rather than using metrics such as acceptance and retention rates, the study operated on a “simple, if debatable premise,” according to The Economist—that the true economic value of a school lies in whether or not its students could have had higher earnings had they attended a different school.

The list measures best value by taking the average amount of money a student earns 10 years after graduation and then subtracting how much money the students would be expected to earn at a comparable school. In other words, the list subtracts “expected earnings” from the actual earnings of graduates. The study controlled for schools with similar racial breakdowns, religious affiliations, sex ratios, average SAT scores, and a number of other variables.

The Economist’s methodology used a government-compiled dataset from the Department of Education’s college scorecard that matched a student’s college loan application with his or her student tax returns 10 years later.

In a blog post explaining the ranking methodology, The Economist noted a study by economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger that found that students who were accepted to, but did not attend, top colleges made as much money as people who did attend the schools. Thus, the “best value” concept stems from the idea that students who are smart and hardworking might do well regardless of the school they attended.

According to a 2012 study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University has eight peer institutions that also consider UChicago a peer. Of these eight, University of Pennsylvania ranked 15th, Cornell ranked 203rd, Northwestern ranked 696th, Washington University in St. Louis ranked 988th, Johns Hopkins ranked 1029th, Brown ranked 1125th, California Institute of Technology ranked 1260th, and Yale ranked 1270th.

The Economist did note potential shortcomings of the study, including the fact that the government information only included students applying for federal loans, which is a small subset of students in college. In addition, the earnings are taken from 10 years after graduation, meaning that a large percentage of future high-earners could have been in the middle of graduate school. Finally, the numbers used are for the entering class of 2001, meaning the information might be outdated or the year might be an outlier for high earners.