Brookings’s List

Three students, rear view, looking at books

Brookings’s list looks at reasons why students choose particular colleges.
Image: Shutterstock

Students facing college choose their favorite prospects based on all kinds of factors: prestige, selectiveness, location, programs. But there are few good rubrics for actually determining how much value you might get from any particular school. Is the education at a given school really worth their particular price tag–to you in particular, since every student is different

Brookings, a D.C. think tank, has put together a formula to rank exactly that. Their study measures what they call value-added, or the difference in average income for a given individual if they chose to attend a particular school or to abstain.

The formula begins with the student. It takes into accounts grades, academic ambition, family income, and demographic background to predict a probable range of income without a degree. Then it measures the college. Location, prestige, degrees, and alumni statistics are included, down to the market value of the skills they include on their resumes.

Their published list of schools ranked by this criteria is extensive. Predictably, the top spots are all held by strongly STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-focused schools like MIT and California Institute of Technology. Graduates in those fields have always gone on to more in-demand careers. Berkeley is #25. Harvard University is #34. Both are in the 97th percentile of Brookings’s study.

Let’s take a closer look at the University of Washington, all the way down in the 74th percentile, to explore what that means. They include three calculations of value-added: mid-career earnings, occupational earning power, and loan repayment rate, all of the typical graduate. For UW, they indicate an average annual increase, for the mid-career stat, of 16.3%, an increase in occupational earning power of 6.1%, and an increase in loan repayment of 3%. Their list also includes a detailed breakdown of the school’s qualities, how much aid the average student receives, and a few more details.

It’s not the simplest study to read and understand, but the basic message is clear, and the rankings are meaningful. While value-added shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing where one will study, it’s certainly a very valuable tool to help make that decision.

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