For over twenty years, The Princeton Review has ranked the top public and private ‘Best Value’ colleges in the country. They use a metric that considers nearly forty facts about each school, but students are speaking out as to which really matter—and the ones that the Review should consider next year.
The first thing out of every student’s mouth was the word “subjective.”
“It’s pretty subjective. All students are going to assign greater value to different aspects of their school.” said Robert McArdle, a University of Richmond Sophomore.
McArdle’s sentiment was echoed repeatedly, but there was plenty of common ground when it came down to the most important qualities of a ‘Best Value.’
When shown the list of forty factors The Princeton Review uses, and asked to pick the most important, students hit on four big areas:
1. Tuition/Room & Board/Books
Every student wanted to know how much the school would cost, whether in books, tuition, or living arrangements. In deciding a Best Value, the price tag always came into play. That said, every student admitted that stopping there would be a mistake.
“It’s not just about being cheap, but about actually giving you something of worth for whatever the price may be” said Nick Fleder, a senior at Masters High School in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
2. Faculty/Student Ratio
Just over half the students surveyed highlighted the faculty-to-student ratio as their first or second priority when it comes to ‘Best Value.’ The Review agrees. Most of the Top 10 Private schools on the list have faculty-student ratios under ten.
“It’s not just about the number, it’s about the quality of teaching. Teachers with the highest level of education on the topic they’re teaching. Also, I don’t think there should be tenure because they need to be up to date on what they’re teaching or else they shouldn’t be at the university” said Abby Kloppenburg, a Richmond Junior.
A third of students wanted to know: How much debt will I graduate with? It’s hardly a surprise given that student debt recently passed credit card debt as American consumer’s largest financial concern.
4. SAT/ACT Scores
The Princeton Review takes into account the SAT/ACT scores of the incoming class. It turns out one-third of the students surveyed do too — Richmond’s McArdle provided a reason.
“I think that since the [University of Richmond] seems to gradually going up in the rankings that my degree will increase in value. The SAT/ACT’s factor into that ranking, so they have to factor into a Best Value as well.”
When asked what they would add to complete the student metric of a ‘Best Value’, surveyed students had some interesting suggestions:
Happiness came up more than any other factor.
Many of the students who mentioned the happiness factor also thought about a school’s retention rate as a way of measuring student satisfaction. Lynn Heron, a sophomore at St. John’s University in New York, summarized their sentiments:
“A ‘Best Value’ is the cheapest option where you will be happy. It’s nice if a well-known name comes along with that, but most schools are just what you make of it. You can get an education anywhere if you are actually there to learn.”
2. Clubs and Opportunities
Not far off from happiness is the crux of student life — clubs. How well clubs are funded is related to endowment and tuition prices, but a third of the students surveyed brought it up. Casey Minella, a Cornell University sophomore, explains why:
“A ‘Best Value’ school is a school where I get the most experience and well-rounded studies at. Exploring options like clubs are a huge part of that.”
3. Professional Preparation
Many students were surprised to find that The Review did not take into account the statistics that measure opportunities after college, such as the average starting salary, or the percentage that graduate into a job. Fleder, of New York, sees a ‘Best Value’ school as a school with the best possible return on his investment:
“To be considered a good value, a school has to set you up with a good foundation for a future professional career by providing a four-year degree that will be worth something in your field.”
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