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New College Rankings Keep Princeton, Harvard, Yale at Top

By Alexandra Ward   |   Wednesday, 11 Sep 2013 08:53 AM

U.S. News & World Report published its new list of college rankings Tuesday – this year's top three are Princeton, Harvard, and Yale – but experts are worried that such standings will exacerbate the national student debt crisis by glamorizing the cost of higher education.

Critics argue that the annual rankings only look at the fame, wealth, and exclusivity of a university rather than things that actually matter, like affordability, value of a degree, and employment statistics. This year's top three institutions are a case in point.

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"They're not asking the right questions. They’re not asking questions about value and real value. They’re focused much more on inputs like wealth and prestige and who they exclude," Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, told Yahoo! News. "What they should be asking is: Am I going to graduate? How much debt will I graduate with, and how much money will I make to help me pay off my debt?"

This "superficial" approach rewards schools that have attractive campus amenities and good reputations with higher rankings than ones that provide the best education for the most affordable price.

"There are incentives for schools to spend money on four-star dining halls and rock climbing walls and big buildings," Laitinen said. "Colleges generally aren’t rewarded in the prestige game for how many low-income students they graduated, but they are for how many buildings went up."

Giving top rank to these schools does nothing to encourage other institutions to charge less, serve more low-income students, or improve cost-efficiency, thus driving the cost of education higher and higher, according to Yahoo! News.

President Barack Obama has proposed a new rankings system.

"We’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities — you can get all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who's offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck," the president said in a speech last month at the University of Buffalo.

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