Here’s Why We Don’t Use Test Scores in Rating Honors Programs

The following post is from site editor John Willingham.

In the aftermath of the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal that included cheating on entrance exams, three social scientists recently weighed in on the continued importance of those same examinations, arguing that “No one likes the SAT” but “It’s still the fairest thing about admissions.”

“It has become a mantra in some quarters to assert that standardized tests measure wealth more than intellectual ability or academic potential, but this is not actually the case. These tests clearly assess verbal and mathematical skills, which a century of psychological science shows are not mere reflections of upbringing. Research has consistently found that ability tests like the SAT and the ACT are strongly predictive of success in college and beyond, even after accounting for a student’s socioeconomic status.”

For years, U.S. News has used test scores and selection rates as ranking data for the annual “Best Colleges” report. The publication has slightly reduced the impact of test scores in recent editions.

Below I will explain why we do not include test scores as a metric and argue that, for honors and non-honors students, other factors are more important in predicting success. (High school GPA is certainly a major factor; but since almost all honors students have high GPAs, I do not discuss the impact of GPA in this post.)

In their published scholarly work, the authors argue that test scores by themselves correlate very strongly ( r= -.892) with the annual U.S. News Best Colleges rankings for national universities even though the test scores count for only 7.75 percent of the total ranking score. (The authors do not cite the impact of test scores on other ranking factors such as graduation and retention rates, which together account for 22 percent of the total ranking score.)

Our own work for the past eight years, however, shows that test scores do not have a similar correlation to quantitative assessments of honors programs. In our publications we list minimum and average admissions test scores for all programs we rate, but we do not count the scores alone as a rating factor.

Here’s why we do not use test scores as a measure: The factors that make for an excellent honors program are primarily structural. The major building blocks are the credits required for honors completion; the number of honors class sections offered, by type and academic discipline; the availability of priority registration and honors housing; the size of honors class sections; and the number of staff to assist students.

So, don’t the test scores drive the university graduation rates of honors program entrants, just as they do in elite colleges? The answer is not so much; the correlation is r= .50

Admittedly, it is probably difficult for a student with, say, a 1050 SAT score to succeed in an elite college or in most honors programs. But within a fairly large range of SAT scores (~1280-1510), the opportunities for success are more often present given a conducive structure. With every biannual review of honors data, I find great pleasure in discovering outstanding honors programs that are not housed in highly- ranked and extremely selective universities. The golden nuggets of excellence in higher education are scattered much farther and wider than many would have us believe.

I am strongly opposed to the numerical ranking of colleges or their honors programs, whether or not test scores are included in the methodology. I ranked honors program one time, in 2012, and regret doing so. Yes, I have data that allows me to numerically differentiate the total rating scores earned by honors programs. But anyone who wants to provide some kind of assessment of colleges or programs needs to do so with the assumption that their methodology is subjective and imperfect. Ordinal rankings based on distinctions of one point or fractions of a point give readers a veneer of certitude that a qualitative difference exists even if it (often) does not.

Although we do not rank honors programs, we do place them in one of five rating groups, a process that is similar to rating films on a five-star basis but based on quantitative rather than completely subjective data. The seven honors programs in the top group in 2018 (out of 41) had average SAT scores (enrolled students) ranging from 1280 to 1490, a sizable range.

Honors completion rates are something of an issue these days. An honors completion rate is the percentage of first year honors entrants who complete at least one honors program graduation requirement by the time of graduation from the university. About 42 percent of honors students do not complete honors requirements before graduation, although a very high percentage of honors entrants (87 percent) do graduate from the university.

The seven honors programs with honors completion rates of 75 percent or higher in our 2018 ratings had average SAT scores ranging from 1340 to 1510; the mean for this group was 1420. The mean SAT for the 31 (of 41) programs that provided completion rates was 1405, not much lower. And another seven programs with mean SAT scores of 1420 or higher had completion rates below 58 percent, the group mean.

The mean SAT score for all 41 rated programs was 1407; the mean SAT for the top seven programs was only one point higher at 1408.

It is clear, at least with respect to honors programs, that average SAT scores are not the best predictors of program effectiveness. What does this mean for the value of test scores nationwide, if anything?

I think it means that for students who are in the 1280 to 1500 SAT range, success depends as much or more on mentoring, smaller interdisciplinary sections, student engagement, course availability, community (including housing), and advising support than it does on test scores.

The good news here is that even for students who are not in honors programs, high levels of achievement are accessible to students who do not begin college with extremely high test scores, although non-honors students will probably have to assert themselves more in order to benefit from the strongest attributes of their university.





Academic Reputation Rankings for 155 National Universities (and What That Means for Honors)

Editor’s Note: The list appears after the introductory section. The list is current as of September 25, 2018.

In a previous post, Based on Academic Reputation Alone, Publics Would Be Higher in U.S. News Rankings, we write that many public universities have a reputation in the academic community that is much higher than their overall ranking by U.S. News. In this post, we will summarize the reasons that prospective honors students and their parents might consider paying more attention to academic reputation than to other factors in the oft-cited rankings. The list also facilitates comparisons of public and private universities.

First, these are factors to consider if the state university’s academic reputation is much stronger than its overall ranking:

1. The overall rankings penalize public universities for their typically larger class sizes, but the average honors class size in our most recent study of honors programs is 24.9 students, much smaller than the average class size for the universities as a whole.  Many of these honors classes are lower-division, where the preponderance of large classes is often the norm. First-year honors seminars and classes for honors-only students average 17.5 students per section.  Result:  the relatively poor rating the whole university might receive for class size is offset for honors students.

2. The overall rankings hit some public universities hard for having relatively low retention and graduation percentages, but freshmen retention rates in honors programs are in the 90% range and higher; meanwhile six-year grad rates for honors entrants average 87%–much higher than the average rates for the universities as a whole.  Result: the lower rates for the universities as a whole are offset for honors students.

3. All public universities suffer in the overall rankings because U.S. News assigns ranking points for both the wealth of the university as a whole and for the impact that wealth has on professors’ salaries, smaller class sizes, etc.  This is a double whammy in its consideration of inputs and outputs separately; only the outputs should be rated.  Result: the outputs for class size (see above) are offset for honors students, and the wealth of the university as an input should not be considered in the first place.

4. For highly-qualified students interested in graduate or professional school, academic reputation and the ability to work with outstanding research faculty are big advantages. Honors students have enhanced opportunities to work with outstanding faculty members even in large research universities, many of which are likely to have strong departmental rankings in the student’s subject area.  Result: honors students are not penalized for the research focus of public research universities; instead, they benefit from it.

5. Many wealthy private elites are generous in funding all, or most, need-based aid, but increasingly offer little or no merit aid. This means that families might receive all the need-based aid they “deserve” according to a federal or institutional calculation and still face annual college costs of $16,000 to $50,000. On the other hand, national scholars and other highly-qualified students can still receive significant merit aid at most public universities. Result: if a public university has an academic reputation equal to that of a wealthy private elite, an honors student could be better off financially and not suffer academically in a public honors program.

But…what if the academic reputation of the public university is lower than that of a private school under consideration?  In this case, the public honors option should offer the following offsets:

1.The net cost advantage of the public university, including merit aid, probably needs to be significant.

2. It is extremely important to evaluate the specific components of the honors program to determine if it provides a major “value-added” advantage–is it, relatively, better than the university as a whole. Often, the answer will be yes. To determine how much better, look at the academic disciplines covered by the honors program, the actual class sizes, retention and graduation rates, research opportunities, and even honors housing and perks, such as priority registration.

The rankings below are on a 5.0 scale, and there are many ties. We have included national universities with reputations rankings between 2.7 and 4.9.

University Acad Rep Ranking
Princeton 4.9 1
Harvard 4.9 1
Stanford 4.9 1
MIT 4.9 1
Yale 4.7 5
Columbia 4.7 5
Caltech 4.7 5
UC Berkeley 4.7 5
Chicago 4.6 9
Johns Hopkins 4.6 9
Cornell 4.6 9
Penn 4.5 12
Duke 4.5 12
Northwestern 4.4 14
Brown 4.4 14
Michigan 4.4 14
Dartmouth 4.3 17
Carnegie Mellon 4.3 17
UCLA 4.3 17
Georgia Tech 4.3 17
Vanderbilt 4.2 21
Virginia 4.2 21
Washington Univ 4.1 23
Rice 4.1 23
Notre Dame 4.1 23
Emory 4.1 23
Georgetown 4.1 23
North Carolina 4.1 23
UT Austin 4.1 23
USC 4 30
UW Madison 4 30
NYU 3.9 32
UC Davis 3.9 32
Illinois 3.9 32
Washington 3.9 32
William & Mary 3.8 36
UC San Diego 3.8 36
Ohio St 3.8 36
Purdue 3.8 36
Tufts 3.7 40
Case Western 3.7 40
UC Irvine 3.7 40
Penn State 3.7 40
Florida 3.7 40
Maryland 3.7 40
Minnesota 3.7 40
Wake Forest 3.6 47
Boston College 3.6 47
Brandeis 3.6 47
Boston Univ 3.6 47
UC Santa Barbara 3.6 47
Georgia 3.6 47
Texas A&M 3.6 47
Indiana 3.6 47
Colorado 3.6 47
Arizona 3.6 47
RPI 3.5 57
Tulane 3.5 57
George Washington 3.5 57
Pitt 3.5 57
Virginia Tech 3.5 57
Iowa 3.5 57
Michigan St 3.5 57
Rochester 3.4 64
U of Miami 3.4 64
Northeastern 3.4 64
Rutgers 3.4 64
Col School of Mines 3.4 64
UMass Amherst 3.4 64
Arizona St 3.4 64
Pepperdine 3.3 71
Syracuse 3.3 71
RIT 3.3 71
Connecticut 3.3 71
Clemson 3.3 71
Auburn 3.3 71
Stony Brook 3.3 71
Iowa St 3.3 71
Oregon 3.3 71
Kansas 3.3 71
Lehigh 3.2 81
Villanova 3.2 81
SMU 3.2 81
American 3.2 81
Delaware 3.2 81
Miami Oh 3.2 81
Alabama 3.2 81
Florida St 3.2 81
NC State 3.2 81
Missouri 3.2 81
Tennessee 3.2 81
Fordham 3.1 92
Brigham Young 3.1 92
Baylor 3.1 92
Pacific 3.1 92
Drexel 3.1 92
UC Santa Cruz 3.1 92
Oklahoma 3.1 92
Nebraska 3.1 92
South Carolina 3.1 92
UC Riverside 3.1 92
Kentucky 3.1 92
George Mason 3.1 92
Utah 3.1 92
WPI 3 105
Marquette 3 105
Loyola Chicago 3 105
Howard 3 105
Binghamton 3 105
Vermont 3 105
UI Chicago 3 105
Univ at Buffalo 3 105
Colorado St 3 105
Temple 3 105
Kansas St 3 105
Clark 2.9 116
Denver 2.9 116
San Diego 2.9 116
DePaul 2.9 116
St. Louis 2.9 116
New Hampshire 2.9 116
Arkansas 2.9 116
Mississippi 2.9 116
San Diego St 2.9 116
Seton Hall 2.9 116
LSU 2.9 116
Yeshiva 2.8 127
Stevens Inst Tech 2.8 127
New School 2.8 127
Hofstra 2.8 127
TCU 2.8 127
St. John’s 2.8 127
Illinois Tech 2.8 127
Texas Tech 2.8 127
TCU 2.8 127
UAB 2.8 127
USF 2.8 127
VCU 2.8 127
UT Dallas 2.8 127
New Mexico 2.8 127
Univ at Albany 2.8 127
UMBC 2.8 127
Cincinnati 2.8 127
URI 2.8 127
Tulsa 2.7 145
Catholic 2.7 145
Clarkson 2.7 145
Michigan Tech 2.7 145
UCF 2.7 145
Georgia State 2.7 145
NJIT 2.7 145
Idaho 2.7 145
UNC Charlotte 2.7 145
UC Merced 2.7 145
Hawaii Manoa 2.7 145

Honors Completion Rates: A Statistical Summary

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final post in our series on honors program completion rates.

In the first post, we wrote about the hybrid structure of honors programs and how that can affect honors completion rates. An honors completion rate is the percentage of honors students who complete all honors course requirements for at least one option by the time they graduate. The second post presented a tentative formula for evaluating honors completion rates.

This post has two parts. The first part compares honors completion rates of main option and multiple option honors programs; the second part (2) a compares completion rates of honors colleges and honors programs.

Main option programs emphasize only one curriculum completion path, usually requiring more than 30 honors credits and often an honors thesis as well. Multiple option programs offer two or more completion paths for first-year students. One option might require 24 honors credits; another might require 15-16 credits. Either of these might also require a thesis.

Many universities are now establishing honors colleges. These usually have a dean and a designated staff of advisors. They typically provide at least enough honors housing space for first-year students. Some began as honors programs and then re-formed into honors colleges. Quite a few honors colleges have significant endowments.

Honors programs do not have a dean, but are administered by a director and staff. Sometimes there are few real differences between honors colleges and programs. In general, however, honors colleges have more staff and offer more access to honors housing.

We received data from 23 honors colleges and eight honors programs, having a combined enrollment of more than 64,000 honors students. The 31 parent universities had an average U.S. News ranking of 126, ranging from the low 50s to higher than 200.

The first summary is below:

NO. HONORS STUDENTS642872768836599
PROGRAM SIZE2073.81845.92287.4
COMPLETION % rate57.967.848.6
HONORS GRAD RATE86.988.785.2
TEST SCORES ADJ TO SAT1405.61416.91395.0
CLASS SIZE24.224.024.4
THESIS OPTION Y/N27/411/416/0
DORM RMS / FR & SOPH0.53.57.48

The second summary, comparing honors colleges and honors programs, is below:

PROGRAM SIZE2294.391439.5
COMPLETION % rate54.866.7
CLASS SIZE25.022.0
DORM RMS / FR & SOPH.55.46

Here is a Formula for Evaluating Honors Completion Rates

Honors completion rates, as we noted in a previous post, are a complicated issue. They represent the percentage of students who enter an honors program and then complete all honors requirements for at least one completion option by the time they graduate.

They are related to university freshman retention rates and university graduation rates, but in order to evaluate them there must be some workable baseline completion rate derived from a significant sample of programs.

Honors deans and directors at 31 public university honors programs contributed the data used to calculate the values in the next paragraph, along with extensive additional data we use in rating honors programs. The 31 programs enrolled more than 64,000 honors students in Fall 2017. At some point we might include completion rates as a metric; if we do, then this formula, or an improved version, might be used.

This tentative formula takes into account (1) the average (mean) honors completion rate for the whole data set (57.88 percent); (2) the mean university-wide freshman retention rate for the whole data set (86.81 percent); (3) the completion rate of each program; (4) the freshman retention rate for the parent university of each program; and (5) the graduation rate of each university.

The formula assumes that a desirable target honors completion rate should at least equal the midway point between the university graduation rate and the adjusted honors completion rate. (See examples below, however, for programs that have honors completion rates that exceed the university graduation rate.) The formula can easily be changed to include lower or higher target levels by increasing or reducing the divisor.

H = the mean honors completion rate for the data set;

F = the mean freshman retention rate for the data set;

P = the program completion rate;

C = the completion rate of each program adjusted to the university freshman retention rate (.67*R);

R = the freshman retention rate of each parent university;

G = the graduation rate of each parent university;

T = the estimated target completion rate after the formula is applied. T = (G + C) /2. This is an estimate of what the minimum completion rate should be, given the university’s freshman retention rate and graduation rate, and the mean completion rate and mean freshman retention rate for this data set. Other data sets would of course have different data, but the formula could still be applied.

The completion rates of ten programs exceeded the graduation rates of their parent universities.

Here is the formula, where P = 61%; R = 92%; G = 83%:

First step = (H/F), or .57.88 / 86.81. The result is .67. This is a constant for this data set.

Second step is to adjust the completion rate in relation to the university freshman retention rate = .67 *R, or .67 *92. The result is 61.64 (C), a bit higher than the actual program completion rate of 61.0 (P), because of the relatively high freshman retention rate.

Third step is to adjust the completion rate C in relation to the university graduation rate in order to calculate the target completion rate. T = (G + C) /2, or (83 + 61.64) /2 = 72.32 (T).

Fourth step is to calculate P – T, which would be 61.00 – 72.32 = –11.32. This step calculates the extent to which the program completion rate varies from the estimated target rate. The program is performing below the estimated target rate. The relatively high university graduation rate is the main reason.

More examples:

Honors program A had a program completion rate (P) of 84%, a freshman retention rate (R) of 88%, and a university graduation rate (G) of 73%. The C rate would be .67*88, or 58.96. The T calculation would be (G + C) /2, or (73 + 58.96) / 2= 65.98 (T). Now calculate C – T, (or 84 – 65.98) = +18.02. This program is performing far above its estimated target rate.

Honors program B had the same program completion rate (P) of 84% but a much higher freshman retention rate (R) of 95%, and a university graduation rate (G) of 81%. Calculating the C value would be .67*95, or 63.7, and the T would (G + C) /2, or (81 – 63.7) /2 = 73.325. When we calculate C – T, (84 – 73.325), the result is + 11.675. This program is performing well above its estimated rage, but even with the same completion rate as Program A, the impact of higher graduation and freshman retention rates for Program B causes its relative performance rating to be lower than Program A. In other words, the expectations were higher for Program B. Both programs are exceptional in that their honors completion rates exceed their university graduation rates.

Honors program D had a program completion rate (P) of 40%, a freshman retention rate (R) of 82%, and a university graduation rate (G) of 53%. C would be .67*82, or 54.94. T would be (G + C) /2, or (53 + 54.94) /2 = 53.97. Calculating C – T, the result is 40 – 53.97, or -13.97. Program D is significantly underperforming based on the formula.




U.S. News Rankings for 57 Leading Universities, 1983–2007

Below are the U.S. News rankings from 1983 through 2007 for 57 leading national universities. For additional U.S. News rankings, please see U.S. News Rankings, 2008 through 2015, and Average U.S. News Rankings for 129 National Universities, 2011 to 2018.

Especially notable in the list below are the changes in major public universities.

Included here are institutions that were, at some point, ranked in the top 50 in those two categories. Some values are blank because in those years the magazine did not give individual rankings to every institution, instead listing them in large groups described as “quartiles” or “tiers.” The rankings shown for 1983 and 1985 are the ones that U.S. News published in its magazine in those same years. For all subsequent years, the rankings come from U.S. News’s separate annual publication “America’s Best Colleges”, which applies rankings for the upcoming year.

Here is the list:

 Year 83 85 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Stanford University 1 1 1 6 6 2 3 4 6 5 4 6 5 4 6 6 5 4 5 5 5 4
Harvard University 2 2 2 4 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 2
Yale University 3 2 3 1 1 3 2 3 3 3 2 1 3 1 4 2 2 2 3 3 3 3
Princeton University 4 4 4 2 2 4 4 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
University of California at Berkeley 5 7 5 24 13 13 16 16 19 23 26 27 23 22 20 20 20 20 21 21 20 21
University of Chicago 6 5 8 10 9 11 10 9 9 10 11 12 14 14 13 10 9 12 13 14 15 9
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor 7 8 25 17 21 22 24 23 21 24 24 23 25 25 25 25 25 25 22 25 24
Cornell University 8 11 14 11 9 12 11 10 15 13 14 14 6 11 10 14 14 14 14 13 12
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 8 20 45 50 45 42 34 41 36 38 40 37 42 41
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 10 11 5 7 6 6 5 4 4 5 5 6 4 3 5 5 4 4 5 7 4
Dartmouth College 10 10 6 7 8 8 8 7 8 8 7 7 7 10 11 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
California Institute of Technology 12 21 3 4 5 4 5 5 7 7 9 9 9 1 4 4 4 5 8 7 4
Carnegie Mellon University 13 22 24 19 24 24 23 28 23 25 23 23 22 21 23 22 22 21
University of Wisconsin at Madison 13 23 32 41 38 36 34 35 32 31 32 32 34 34
Case Western Reserve University 35 38 37 34 34 38 38 37 37 35 37 38
Tulane University 38 36 34 36 44 45 46 43 44 43 43 44
University of California at Irvine 48 37 41 36 49 41 41 45 45 43 40 44
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 39 48 49 49 48 47 48 46 43 42
University of Washington 50 42 44 45 45 47 45 46 45 42
University of Rochester 25 29 30 31 29 32 33 36 36 35 37 34 34
University of California at San Diego 43 34 33 32 32 31 31 31 32 35 32 38
Georgia Institute of Technology 42 48 41 46 40 35 41 38 37 41 37 38
Yeshiva University 45 48 42 44 45 41 40 40 46 45 44
Pennsylvania State University at University Park 41 45 44 40 44 46 45 48 50 48 47
Worcester Polytechnic Institute 48 55 55 53 64
Rutgers University at New Brunswick 45 60 58 60 60
Texas A&M University at College Station 48 48 67 62 60 60
Pepperdine University 49 48 47 51 52 55 54
Syracuse University 49 44 40 47 55 52 50 52
George Washington University 46 50 51 52 53 52
University of Florida 47 49 48 50 50 47
University of California at Santa Barbara 46 47 47 44 45 48 47 45 45 45 47
University of California at Davis 40 40 41 44 42 41 41 43 43 42 48 47
University of Texas at Austin 25 44 49 48 47 53 46 52 47
New York University 36 35 34 35 34 33 32 35 35 32 37 34
Boston College 37 38 38 36 39 38 38 40 40 37 40 34
Emory University 25 22 21 25 16 17 19 9 16 18 18 18 18 18 20 20 18
Vanderbilt University 24 19 25 20 18 22 20 19 20 20 22 21 21 19 18 18 18
Rice University 14 9 10 16 15 12 14 12 16 16 17 18 14 13 12 15 16 17 17 17
Johns Hopkins University 16 11 14 15 11 15 15 22 10 15 14 14 7 15 16 15 14 14 13 16
Brown University 7 10 13 15 12 17 18 12 11 9 8 9 10 14 15 16 17 17 13 15 15
Northwestern University 17 16 19 23 14 13 13 14 13 9 9 10 14 13 12 10 11 11 12 14
Washington University in St. Louis 23 19 22 24 18 20 18 20 20 17 17 16 17 15 14 12 9 11 11 12
Columbia University 18 8 11 10 9 10 11 9 15 11 9 10 10 10 9 10 11 9 9 9
Duke University 6 7 12 5 7 7 7 7 6 6 4 3 6 7 8 8 4 5 5 5 8
University of Notre Dame 18 23 25 19 18 17 19 18 19 19 19 18 19 18 18 20
Georgetown University 17 25 19 19 17 17 25 21 23 21 20 23 23 22 24 23 25 23 23
Lehigh University 33 32 34 36 34 38 38 40 37 37 32 33
Brandeis University 30 29 28 31 31 31 34 31 32 32 34 31
College of William and Mary 22 34 33 32 33 29 30 30 30 31 31 31 31
Wake Forest University 31 25 28 29 28 28 26 25 28 27 27 30
Tufts University 25 22 23 25 29 29 28 28 27 28 27 27
University of Southern California 44 43 41 41 42 35 34 31 30 30 30 27
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 9 11 23 18 20 25 27 25 27 24 27 25 28 28 29 29 27 27
University of California at Los Angeles 21 16 17 23 23 22 28 31 28 25 25 25 26 25 26 25 25 26
University of Virginia 15 20 21 18 21 22 21 17 19 21 21 22 22 20 24 23 21 22 23 24
University of Pennsylvania 19 15 20 13 13 14 16 12 11 13 7 6 7 6 5 4 5 4 4 7

Top 25 Universities for Silicon Valley Hires: 17 Are Public

The website Quartz just published a list of the universities that place the highest number of grads at tech firms in Silicon Valley.

“The most coveted jobs are in Silicon Valley, and most selective US universities are members of the Ivy League. So it stands to reason that tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook would scoop up best and brightest from those bastions of power and privilege.

“Think again. None of the eight Ivy League schools—Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania—cracked the top 10 on a list of the universities sending the most graduates to tech firms, according to an analysis by HiringSolved, an online recruiting company. The company used data from more than 10,000 public profiles for tech workers hired or promoted into new positions in 2016 and the first two months of 2017.”

Editor’s note: The HiringSolve link also lists the 10 specific skills most in demand as of 2017, with changes from 2016. For example, the top four skills for entry level placement in 2017 are Python, C++, Java, and algorithms. The top job titles for entry placement in 2017 are Software Engineering Intern, Software Engineer, Business Development Consultant, and Research Intern.

Now let it be said that the 17 public universities in the top 25 are generally much larger than the private institutions on the list, so the sheer volume of highly-trained tech grads from the publics is much larger.

But the final message from Quartz was this:

If the list tells us anything, it’s that admission to an elite university isn’t a prerequisite for a career in Silicon Valley, and what you know is more important than where you learn it.” [Emphasis added.]

Here are the top 25 universities for Silicon Valley tech placement, in numerical order:

UC Berkeley
Carnegie Mellon
UT Austin
Georgia Tech
San Jose State
UC San Diego
Arizona State
NC State
Cal Poly
Waterloo (Canada)
Texas A&M
Santa Clara
Univ of Phoenix*
UC Santa Barbara
UC Davis
Penn State

*Hypothesis: hands-on experience and later degrees?

Money Magazine Best Values 2017: CUNY Baruch, Michigan, UC’s, UVA Lead Publics

The new rankings from Money are out, and public colleges and universities account for 27 of the top 50 best values in 2017. These rankings are likely the best college rankings overall, given their balanced approach.

As Jeffrey J. Selingo writes in the Washington Post, the earnings portion of the rankings are based in part on some very interesting new evidence: the “Chelly data.”

“That refers to Raj Chetty,” Selingo tells us, “a Stanford professor, who has led a team of economists that has received access to millions of anonymous tax records that span generations. The group has published several headline-grabbing studies recently based on the data. In findings published in January, the group tracked students from nearly every college in the country and measured their earnings more than a decade after they left campus, whether they graduated or not.

Money does a better job of ranking colleges based on “outcomes” than Forbes does (see Outcomes farther down). This is especially the case with the multiple earnings analyses.

To see the list of top publics, please skip the methodology discussion immediately below.


The 2017 rankings include 27 factors in three categories:

Quality of education (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:

Six-year graduation rate (30%).

Value-added graduation rate (30%). “This is the difference between a school’s actual graduation rate and its expected rate, based on the economic and academic profile of the student body (measured by the percentage of attendees receiving Pell grants, which are given to low-income students, and the average standardized test scores of incoming freshmen).” [Emphasis added.]

“Peer quality (10%). This is measured by the standardized test scores of entering freshman (5%), and the percentage of accepted students who enroll in that college, known as the “yield” rate (5%).” Note: using the yield rate is an improvement over the U.S. News rankings.

“Instructor quality (10%). This measured by the student-to-faculty ratio.” Note: this is very similar to a U.S. News metric.

“Financial troubles (20%). This is a new factor added in 2017, as financial difficulties can affect the quality of education, and a growing number of schools are facing funding challenges.” Note: although this is not an “outcome” either, it is more meaningful than using data on alumni contributions, etc.

Affordability (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:

“Net price of a degree (30%). This is the estimated amount a typical freshman starting in 2017 will pay to earn a degree, taking into account the college’s sticker price; how much the school awards in grants and scholarships; and the average time it takes students to graduate from the school, all as reported to the U.S. Department of Education….This takes into account both the estimated average student debt upon graduation (15%) and average amount borrowed through the parent federal PLUS loan programs (5%).

“Student loan repayment and default risk (15%).

“Value-added student loan repayment measures (15%). These are the school’s performance on the student loan repayment and default measures after adjusting for the economic and academic profile of the student body.

Affordability for low-income students (20%). This is based on federally collected data on the net price that students from families earning $0 to $30,000 pay.

Outcomes (1/3 weighting), which was calculated using:

“Graduates’ earnings (12.5%), as reported by alumni to; early career earnings within five years of graduation (7.5%), and mid-career earnings, which are for those whose education stopped at a Bachelor’s degree and graduated, typically, about 15 years ago. (5%).

“Earnings adjusted by majors (15%). To see whether students at a particular school earn more or less than would be expected given the subjects students choose to study, we adjusted’s data for the mix of majors at each school; for early career earnings (10%) and mid-career earnings (5%).

“College Scorecard 10-year earnings (10%). The earnings of federal financial aid recipients at each college as reported to the IRS 10 years after the student started at the college.

“Estimated market value of alumni’s average job skills (10%). Based on a Brookings Institution methodology, we matched up data provided by LinkedIn of the top 25 skills reported by each school’s alumni with Burning Glass Technologies data on the market value each listed skill.

“Value-added earnings (12.5%). To see if a school is helping launch students to better-paying jobs than competitors that take in students with similar academic and economic backgrounds, we adjusted’s earnings data for the student body’s average test scores and the percentage of low-income students at each school; for early career earnings (7.5%) and mid-career earnings (5%).

Job meaning (5%). We used the average score of each school’s alumni on’s survey question of “Does your work make the world a better place?”

“Socio-economic mobility index (20%).

For the first time, we included new data provided by the Equality of Opportunity Project that reveals the percentage of students each school move from low-income backgrounds to upper-middle class jobs by the time the student is 34 years old.Finally, we used statistical techniques to turn all the data points into a single score and ranked the schools based on those scores.” [Emphasis added.]

The inclusion of these metrics makes the Money rankings a hybrid of the Washington Monthly “public good” rankings, U.S. News, and Kiplinger rankings, with the socio-economic factors having a less significant impact than the Washington Monthly rankings on overall standing. Still, these factors do result in two CUNY campuses’ receiving high rankings.

“The data showed, for example,” Selingo writes, “that the City University of New York propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined. The California State University system advanced three times as many.”


CUNY Baruch College–2
UC Berkeley–4
UC Irvine–7
UC Davis–9
Georgia Tech–16
Virginia Tech–23
College of New Jersey–24
UC Riverside–29
Michigan State–30
UT Austin–31
Texas A&M–34
UC Santa Barbara–36
Purdue–37 (tie)
Cal State Long Beach–42
CUNY Brooklyn–43
UW Madison–45
James Madison–46
Rutgers, New Brunswick–49
NC State–50


Top Honors Programs, Honors Components Only

So, what do we mean by “honors components only”?

In our latest book of honors program ratings, we listed the honors programs and colleges that received an overall five “mortarboard” rating. One component of the rating model used in order to determine the leading programs is prestigious scholarships–the number of Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, etc., awards earned by students from each university as a whole.

In most cases, honors programs at these universities contribute most of the winners of these awards, but not in all cases. So while the prestigious scholarship component is worth including, we do not want it to override the 12 other rating components used in the ratings. These components are “honors only” because they do not include awards earned by non-honors students of the university as a whole.

Therefore, we decided to do a separate rating, one that is not included in the new book, INSIDE HONORS. The new rating uses only the 12 components listed below. Farther down,  you can see whether the prestigious scholarship component had a major impact on the overall ratings of top programs.

Those 12 additional components are…

  • Curriculum Requirements
  • Number of Honors Classes
  • Number of Honors Classes in 15 Key Disciplines
  • Extent of Honors Enrollment
  • Average Class Size, Honors-only Sections
  • Overall Average Class Size, All Sections
  • Honors Graduation Rate-Raw
  • Honors Graduation Rate-Adjusted for Test Scores
  • Student to Staff Ratio
  • Type and Extent of Priority Registration
  • Honors Residence Halls, Amenities
  • Honors Residence Halls, Availability

Below is a comparison of the honors programs that received a five mortarboard OVERALL RATING (left side) and those that receive the same rating for HONORS COMPONENTS ONLY (right side), all listed ALPHABETICALLY.

Arizona St Clemson
Clemson CUNY Macaulay
CUNY Macaulay Georgia
Georgia Houston
Houston Kansas
Kansas New Jersey Inst Tech
New Jersey Inst Tech Oregon
Oregon Penn St
Penn St South Carolina
South Carolina Temple
UT Austin UT Austin

It is notable that the overlap is almost identical: Arizona State is not on the second list, while Temple is not on the OVERALL list but is on the HONORS COMPONENTS list.

We must add that Temple barely missed a five mortarboard overall rating, while ASU was similarly close to making the honors components list.

Update No. 3: The 2016 Edition Is Coming Soon, with Important Changes

By John Willingham, Editor

The 2016 edition will have a new name– Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of 60 Public University Honors Programs. It is in the final proofing stage now. The goal is to publish in late September. Each edition includes a somewhat different group of honors colleges and programs, so there will be changes, even among the 40 or so programs that are reviewed in each edition.

As I have noted in previous updates, the book will take an almost microscopic view of 50 of these programs and also provide more general summary reviews of 10 additional programs. I can say now that there will be a few more programs that will receive the highest overall rating of five “mortarboards” than there were in 2014. (The final list of programs we are rating and reviewing for 2016 is below.)

The rating system makes it possible for any honors college or program, whether a part of a public “elite” or not, to earn the highest rating. Similarly, the ratings allow all types of honors programs to earn the highest rating. Those receiving five mortarboards will include core-type programs with fewer than 1,000 students and large honors programs with thousands of students. And absent any intentional preference for geographical diversity, the list does in fact include programs from north, south, east, and west.

By microscopic, I mean that the rating categories have increased from 9 to 14, and so has the depth of statistical analysis. The categories are, first, the overall honors rating; curriculum requirements; the number of honors classes offered; the number of honors classes in “key” disciplines; the extent of honors participation by all members in good standing; honors-only class sizes; overall class size averages, including mixed and contract sections; honors grad rates, adjusted for admissions test scores; ratio of students to honors staff; type of priority registration; honors residence halls, amenities; honors residence halls, availability; and the record of achieving prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, etc.).

Sometimes readers (and critics) ask: Why so few programs? Doesn’t U.S. News report on hundreds of colleges?

The answer is: Honors colleges and programs are complicated. Each one of the 50 rated reviews in the new edition with by 2,500-3,000 words in length, or 7-8 pages. That’s almost 400 pages, not including introductory sections. The rest of the answer is: We are not U.S. News. With myself, one assistant editor, a contract statistician, and an outsourced production firm, our ability to add programs is very limited.

The 2016 profiles are full of numbers, ratios, and averages, more than in 2014 certainly–and too many, I believe, for readers who would prefer more narrative summary and description. So, yes, it is a wonkish book, even to a greater extent than this website tends to be. But then, they are honors programs after all.

Full ratings:

Alabama Honors
Arizona Honors
Arizona State Honors
Arkansas Honors
Auburn Honors
Central Florida Honors
Clemson Honors
Colorado State Honors
Connecticut Honors
CUNY Macaulay Honors
Delaware Honors
Georgia Honors
Georgia State Honors
Houston Honors
Idaho Honors
Illinois Honors
Indiana Honors
Iowa Honors
Kansas Honors
Kentucky Honors
LSU Honors
Maryland Honors
Massachusetts Honors
Minnesota Honors
Mississippi Honors
Missouri Honors
Montana Honors
New Jersey Inst of Tech
New Mexico Honors
North Carolina Honors
Oklahoma Honors
Oklahoma State Honors
Oregon Honors
Oregon State Honors
Penn State Honors
Purdue Honors
South Carolina Honors
South Dakota Honors
Temple Honors
Tennessee Honors
Texas A&M Honors
Texas Tech Honors
UC Irvine Honors
University of Utah Honors
UT Austin Honors
Vermont Honors
Virginia Commonwealth Honors
Virginia Tech Honors
Washington Honors
Washington State Honors

Summary Reviews:

Cincinnati Honors
Florida State Honors
Michigan Honors
New Hampshire Honors
Ohio Univ Honors
Pitt Honors
Rutgers Honors
Virginia Honors
Western Michigan Honors
Wisconsin Honors


Update: 2016 Edition of Honors Ratings and Reviews

By John Willingham, Editor

After three months of analyzing data, we are almost at the point of rating at least 50 honors programs, writing their profiles, and adding another 10 or so summary reviews (unrated).

What I can say now is that there will be some significant changes–and some surprises. We are running behind schedule, but I still hope for publication by late September.

Here’s why. The 2014 edition was a great improvement over the 2012 book. In 2012, I was so focused on the importance of honors curriculum and completion requirements, along with the glitz of prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, etc.) that the first effort failed to drill deeply into the complexities of honors programs.

The 2014 edition moved the ball forward–about halfway downfield, or more–because I was able to obtain more information from honors deans and directors. I also studied class section data online and derived a lot of useful information about honors-only classes, including average class sizes and a general idea of the disciplines offered.

For the 2016 edition, I knew going in that I needed far more detailed information from the programs themselves to develop precise measures for all class sections (including mixed and contract sections). Fortunately, I have been working with that much better information. The result is that instead of listing the number of honors classes in, say, math, the 2016 edition will report how many sections there are in relation to the total number of honors students.

This approach will have a dramatic impact in some cases. For example, say that Program A has 4 honors math sections might have looked good in the 2014 edition; but if Program A has 1400 enrolled honors students, 4 sections do not look very strong.

Another difference will be in the rating for honors class size. In 2014, the most accurate ratings were for honors-only class sizes. But the fact is that many programs offer much of their honors credit via mixed and contract sections. Accurately measuring the class sizes for these sections is extremely difficult when using only the online data. Indeed, there is no section information about contract sections online. Approximately 60 percent of programs allow credit for honors contracts (basically, doing extra work in a regular section for honors credit). A few have use contracts extensively. The new edition will list the average size of contract and mixed sections (honors and non-honors students in the same class).

Finally, another major difference that will have an impact in 2016 is that the rating for honors housing will have a new dimension: one-third of the rating will now be based on the availability of housing space, in addition to the amenities and dorm layout.

So stay tuned!