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As a new school year starts, a Best Value Colleges list from Niche.com offers insight into socioeconomic mobility.
Do you know which colleges will offer value, in terms of moving up the income ladder?
Niche.com, a website providing information on higher education, recently released its 2024 Best Colleges in America list, including a category on Best Value Colleges. The latest rankings feature updated methodology to better evaluate economic mobility and to reflect the declining importance of standardized test scores.
When it comes to the Best Value Colleges ranking, Niche implements an economic mobility index to evaluate the colleges whose students are able to improve their financial status after graduation. This index reflects data on the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, the total price of tuition for students from low-income households, and the median earnings of those students six years after entry. The Pell Grant is a need-based federal financial aid awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to help eligible low-income students pay for college costs.
Here are the top three Best Value Colleges for 2024 as ranked by Niche.
1. Harvey Mudd College. This small college has an enrollment of 902 undergraduate students and is located near Los Angeles. Popular majors include engineering and computer science. Harvey Mudd alumni go on to earn an average starting salary of $72,500 around the time of graduation.
2. Stanford University. Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s a mid-size institution with an enrollment of 7,645 undergraduate students. Popular majors include computer science, biology and engineering. Stanford alumni go on to earn an average starting salary of $70,400.
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the Boston area. It has an enrollment of 4,588 undergraduate students. Popular majors include computer science, mechanical engineering, and mathematics. MIT alumni go on to earn an average starting salary of $82,200.
Niche combines data from sources such as the U.S. Department of Education with user input, such as reviews and ratings from current students, alumni and parents. It also adds an analysis of factors including academics, athletics, food and campus life to compile its lists.
Jacque Discenza, founder of Sarphatie Education, a college advisory firm for families, cautions against relying too heavily on lists to find a right fit college. The top schools on the best values list are incredibly difficult to get into, she said.
“Those are very specific schools that heavily emphasize STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math),” Discenza said, noting the low acceptance rates at these schools of under 10%.
In this fluid job market, it’s also best to be fluid with education as well, Discenza said.
“Find a university that offers your major or direction and add some depth to that emphasis by pairing it with a double major or a couple of minors,” Discenza said. Look for colleges that follow up and care after graduation, not just during the four years in college, Discenza added.
With tuition fees rising and work opportunities increasing for high school grads, students and their families want to know they'll see a return on their investment before committing to a college education, Luke Skurman, Founder and CEO of Niche, said in a statement. Niche’s new economic mobility index, along with tuition price data on all college profiles, helps students consider the real cost of attending, as well as their potential future earnings after graduation, he stated.
In addition to introducing the economic mobility index, Niche has updated its methodology to reflect the shift away from standardized testing. Test-optional admissions emerged in 2020 in response to the pandemic, but more than three years later, colleges are continuing the trend. To reflect less emphasis on test scores in the admissions process, all SAT and ACT test-related factors have been removed from Niche’s 2024 college rankings.
STEM majors will make more money immediately after graduation, Discenza said. Other majors and careers add dimension to communities and diversity of thought, she said. When it comes to the right college, there’s much more than the academic lessons provided.
“It’s your family, your drive, and how you utilize the broadness of the opportunities at college,” Discenza said.
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