There is no shortage of college rankings. While US News & World Report’s ranking system may be the most popular, it might not lead you or your student to schools that are actual fits. After all, US News’ top 10 schools will only admit a total of about 25,000 students each year, so even if one or more of them is a fit, getting in to one of them is roughly equivalent to getting into Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.

The Brookings Institution has a different methodology for assessing colleges: it uses “value-added” metrics to identify top institutions. Some of these metrics might be more valuable to your student than just GPA- and reputation-based metrics used by some of the other ranking methodologies. What is a value-added metric? Brookings explains: “[A] college’s value-added measures the difference between actual alumni outcomes (like salaries) and predicted outcomes for institutions with similar characteristics and students. Value-added, in this sense, captures the benefits that accrue from both measurable aspects of college quality, such as graduation rates and the market value of the skills a college teaches, as well as unmeasurable ‘x factors,’ like exceptional leadership or teaching, that contribute to student success.” The primary measures in the study are

  • Alumni mid-career salary
  • Federal student loan default rates in the first 3 years after graduation
  • Occupational earnings power, or the average salary of the college’s alumni’s occupations

Brookings ranks institutions based on the percentage increase or decrease compared with “what is predicted based on student and school characteristics.” Which means, these are schools at which students see better economic outcomes than would be expected of them based on how students like them typically fare.

Keep in mind that the Brookings study focuses strictly on economic outcomes and relies on quantitative data from sources such as IPEDS and the Bureau of Labor Statistics; it does not include subjective criteria that may speak to the broader college experience.

So, who ranks highly in this study? You’ll definitely see CalTech, MIT and Stanford in all of the rankings, but some of the other names might surprise: schools like Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Virginia Military Institute all made one or more list.

See the full report here.