The Alumni Factor: A Revolution in College Rankings (2013-2014 Edition)


This book began with a simple premise—that there is a better way to assess and rank colleges and universities in America than those currently being offered. The primary outcomes of most of today’s rankings are:
1.    To provide readers a view of what life is like as an undergraduate, and
2.    To give insight into who comes into the college.
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This book began with a simple premise—that there is a better way to assess and rank colleges and universities in America than those currently being offered. The primary outcomes of most of today’s rankings are:
1.    To provide readers a view of what life is like as an undergraduate, and
2.    To give insight into who comes into the college.
The Alumni Factor, on the other hand, is more interested in who comes out.

The aim of this guide is to describe how well a college or university actually develops and shapes its students and what becomes of them after they graduate. The Alumni Factor is interested in the actual outcomes experienced by college graduates and the role their college played in creating those outcomes. The Alumni Factor believes this information regarding graduate outcomes is truly essential to understanding and assessing our colleges and universities today.

In line with these goals, The Alumni Factor provides a detailed, in-depth profile of graduates from 225 of our nations top colleges. The profiles were constructed almost entirely with data and insights from the actual college alumni themselves. Readers will find The Alumni Factor to be a fascinating look at the incredibly diverse academic, social and cultural choices available to capable students today.

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  • The Alumni Factor
    The Alumni Factor  

Editorial Reviews

-- Julie C. Lythcott-Haims

"The right college choice comes down to 'fit.' The Alumni Factor goes beyond simplistic rankings by giving students insight into what's important to them and the ability to discern the campuses at which they will feel that all-important sense of belonging."
-- Julie C. Lythcott-Haims, Former dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Stanford University
--Kim Smith

"The Alumni Factor wants to empower consumers--students and parents--by providing a rigorous look at actual student outcomes in college: something that is just as critical for higher education as it is for our K-12 system."
--Kim Smith, Founder, Bellwether Education Partners; Co-founder, New Schools Venture Fund
--Betsy Holden

"With the world of higher education facing significant challenges, The Alumni Factor gives unique voice to alumni--reflective customers of the college experience--thereby, providing colleges and universities with valuable insights on where to improve."
--Betsy Holden, Former co-CEO, Kraft Foods Inc.
--Zach Young

"Thanks to The Alumni Factor for creating an alternative, experienced-based evaluation of many of the best options for higher education. I hope it will open the eyes of prospective students to consider the intriguing opportunities at outstanding colleges that they might otherwise have overlooked."
--Zach Young, Headmaster, Wesleyan School
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780985976521
  • Publisher: The Alumni Factor
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 544,506
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

The Alumni Factor, headquartered in Atlanta, is a college rankings system that goes beyond the traditional approach and empowers students and their parents to make the major decision of where to go to college based on a customizable slate of criteria.  The Alumni Factor is not affiliated with any news organization, publishing house or any other organization in the secondary education arena.
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Read an Excerpt

The Alumni Factor

A Revolution in College Rankings

By Alumni Factor

The Alumni Factor

Copyright © 2013 The Alumni Factor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9859765-2-1



Data Collection

Our rankings are based on proprietary research conducted among tens of thousands of US college and university graduates aged 24 and above. All research was undertaken independently of any school involvement.

Each respondent answered more than 30 questions about themselves:

• Academic record and extracurricular achievements

• College experience and its influence on their lives today

• Household situation and demographics

• Level of employment and financial situation

• Happiness in life

• Views on relevant political and social issues

Ultimately, we ranked 227 top colleges and universities.

Ranking Methodology

The Alumni Factor Overall Rankings are based on 15 attributes for each college, and each is equally weighted. Data for 13 of the 15 attributes came from graduates. Only two of the 15 attributes – the Graduation Rate and the Alumni Giving percentage – are gained from a source other than graduates. The 15 attributes included in the overall ranking are:

• Intellectual Development

• Social and Communication Skills Development

• Friendship Development

• Preparation for Career Success

• Immediate Job Opportunities

• Willingness to Recommend the College to a Prospective Student

• Value for the Money

• Would You Choose the College Again for Yourself?

• Average Income of Graduate Households

• Percentage of High Income Graduate Households (>$150K annually)

• Average Net Worth of Graduate Households

• Percentage of High Net Worth Graduate Households (>$1 million)

• Overall Happiness of Graduates

• Percentage of Alumni Who Donate to the College (2008 to 2011, average)

• Graduation Rate of the College (from 2010)

We include and rank a number of other attributes for each college, such as Spiritual Development and Ultimate Outcomes[SM]. However, we do not include these attributes in our Overall Ranking.

Data were scrubbed of statistical outliers and crosschecked against external sources for validation. In addition, we ensured variances in the age distribution of respondents did not skew results.

We kept it simple and transparent. We did not let our subjective judgment of what is important in an education lead to values-based weightings that might favor some schools more than others. That is for you, the reader, to ultimately decide.

To the extent possible, results for any given school are included in this publication only if they were proven to be of a sufficient sample size to be statistically reliable. If you are interested in learning more about the statistics, please see the commentary from our advisor, David M. Goldsman, PhD, at the end of this book.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are survey-based opinions from alumni valid? Won't grads inflate their responses to make their schools look good?

Opinion-based surveys have a long and proven history and are well known as a valid research approach, as long as certain conditions are met. !e first of these is anonymity, without which, survey respondents may alter their responses out of fear of reprisal. The Alumni Factor does not have any way to identify our respondents, and ensures they know their survey information will be aggregated with other responses to preserve anonymity. The second condition is that the research be conducted by a disinterested third party. Were the colleges and universities themselves conducting the survey, graduates might be tempted to "soften" their feedback out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or to sharpen it to "send a message" to the administration. The Alumni Factor, as an independent researcher, takes these emotional responses out of the equation and thereby gets a more accurate view. The third condition, which is just good research "hygiene," is that any unusual outliers in the data are identified and removed.

We can and do validate the accuracy of responses by cross-referencing independent data where possible. For example, we ask alumni to indicate the range into which their SAT scores fall. Since colleges and universities report SAT data ass well, we can cross-check that the ranges alumni report are consistent with those reported by schools.

Finally, if alumni were systematically and regularly inflating their scores to make their schools look good you would expect this to show up in the data as vvirtually no difference in ratings across the colleges and universities we examined, as well as virtually no difference across the ratings of different outcomes within an individual school. As you delve into the book, you will see this is not the case. Differences reported are significant. Keep in mind there would be no reason to believe graduates of one school would inflate at a higher or lower rate than those of other schools, so the relative comparison between schools – the ranking – would still be a valid measure, even if inflation of responses were to occur.

Why do you have only 227 schools featured in the book? How did you choose which 227 to feature?

We began our data collection effort with over 450 universities and colleges popularly considered among the ranks of the elite. Schools that are not included in our ranking did not have enough responses to be statistically valid at the time we went to press.

What does it mean to be ranked #1 versus #15 or #70 on a list?

Rankings are a way to simplify lots of data into easily understandable terms. They also appeal to an inherent competitive spirit. We encourage readers to look beyond a simple rank to understand the nuances of any individual school. Broadly speaking, groups of 25 might be considered roughly comparable. And remember, all 227 schools on our list are elite and high performing. The key is to find the one best for you.

A Note on Reading the Chapters

The next few chapters of The Alumni Factor provide an in-depth view of our findings on every measured element used to formulate our rankings. Throughout the chapters, we refer to a few terms that may be helpful to define here.

All Graduates: refers to all the alumni in our study.

Correlation: refers to the observation of two variables that seem to be related to one another and move in the same direction (for example, the observation that people who attain a college degree also tend to have higher incomes). Things can be inversely correlated, or move in opposite directions (for example, graduates with post-graduate degrees tend to report lower levels of friendships). Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Because two things seem to be related does not necessarily mean one causes the other or vice versa.

Mean: refers to the arithmetic mean or simple average of any data set in question. Mathematically, it is the sum of a set of values, divided by the number of values.

Median: refers to the numerical value in a set of numbers that separates the upper half of the set from the lower half of the set.

Median Household Income: refers to the income level that divides the distribution into two equal groups, half with household income above, and half below. Many consider median household income to be a better indicator of average household income, as it will be less dramatically skewed by extremely high or low outliers.

Net Worth: refers to a household's total assets (cash, property, equity, etc.) minus its liabilities or debts (credit card debt, unpaid portion of mortgages, etc.)

Top Box, Top 2 Box Scores: Top Box refers to the percentage of alumni who responded Strongly Agree, which is the highest rating (or "box") on our survey scale. Top 2 Box refers to the combination of alumni responses Strongly Agree and Agree.

Type and Size of Institution: We generally follow the Carnegie Foundation categories. We have three types: National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges and Regional Universities. Our size designations are:

Small – less than 4,000 undergraduates

Medium – 4,001 to 10,000 undergraduates

Large – 10,001 to 20,000 undergraduates

Very Large – over 20,000 undergraduates

Unranked Colleges: refers to unnamed colleges for which The Alumni Factor has alumni feedback in numbers too small to be statistically reliable for the purpose of ranking.

Weighted Average: refers to an average in which the quantities to be averaged are assigned a weight to reflect their relative importance or to force a desired distribution of types of respondents.


Exclusive Rankings of Top Colleges and Universities

By most counts, there are roughly 2,475 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the US. The Top 227 ranked by The Alumni Factor represents the rarified top 7% of all four-year colleges. Less than 5% of all college-bound US high school graduates will attend one of these institutions. Therefore, do not draw the tempting conclusion that a school ranked 227th overall or in any one attribute does "poorly." It is likely better than 93% of all colleges across the country!

We evaluated these schools based on their performance against 15 attributes, across six broad criteria, as rated by their alumni:

• College Experience (5 measures)

• Value for Money and Willingness to Recommend (3 measures)

• Financial Success of graduates (4 measures)

• Overall Happiness of graduates (1 measure)

• Alumni Giving percentage (1 measure)

• Graduation Rate of each college (1 measure)

Each measure is weighted equally. Graduate input is the direct source for 13 of the 15 attributes. The remaining 2 attributes are the alumni giving percentage and the college's graduation rate.

Unlike most other lists, we combine data from all schools – national universities, liberal arts colleges and regional universities – when providing our overall ranking.

Readers will also find rankings among each type and size of school.

The Alumni Factor is the best way to compare top schools, regardless of type or size.

We include other data for each college that, while not used to calculate the ranking, is useful in understanding the overall performance of a college as judged by its graduates; i.e. Spiritual Development, political and social views, and other insights that may be helpful in fully understanding the type of graduate each college produces.

What Correlates to a High Ranking?

This chart shows the level to which each of the attributes we measure correlates to The Alumni Factor overall ranking. To determine our rankings, we give equal weight to the 15 attributes marked with an asterisk. As the chart indicates, even though all are equally weighted in our ranking, attributes such as Friendship Development, Intellectual Development and Preparation for Career Success are the best indicators of overall success – and, therefore, are most correlated to a higher ranking. Note: the three lowest attributes for correlation are Total Expenses, Size of Undergraduate Student Body and Spiritual Development.

Performance Versus Reputation

The analysis below plots the colleges we included in an attempt to broadly compare each college's actual results (alumni performance in the real world) versus the college's reputation. The "Results" ranking is simply The Alumni Factor overall ranking for each college, based on alumni reported success. The "Reputation" ranking is based on the "Peer Assessment" rank from the US News and World Report's college rankings, in which they survey various college personnel, asking them to rank their peer schools on a scale of one to five. These peer assessments historically account for 22.5% of an overall USN&WR ranking (as reported in their methodology), which can enhance or detract from a school's image. The statistical challenge with these peer assessments is, first, that data points are often based on a limited number of observations and, second, that an administrator or faculty member at a college may be ranking schools they do not know, other than by reputation. Finally, consistency of raters by role across participating schools is di"cult to control and may introduce non-comparable points of view into the data. Given these methodological issues, we expected to find significant differences in a school's reputation as compared to the actual success and happiness of its graduates – and we did.

Each of the squares on this graph represents one of the colleges in our study. The x-axis plots the school's overall rank by The Alumni Factor, and the y-axis is the school's peer assessment rank from the USN&WR survey. There is a modest correlation between the two (r-squared equals 0.3689), as we expected. The colleges colored light grey are those where the graduates' real-world outcomes exceed the college's reputation. The colleges colored dark grey are those where the school's reputation is higher than the graduate performance in the market. The schools colored medium grey have performance rankings in line with their reputations, as defined by USN&WR.

The graph demonstrates that, in many cases, a college's alumni do better or worse than the college's reputation would suggest. We believe actual performance by alumni is a more credible indicator of the effectiveness of a college's performance. By piercing the bubble of reputation and looking at alumni outcomes, readers get a sharper tool by which to evaluate colleges. Most importantly, colleges get an objective view of how they perform against their missions – something that may help them improve.

The Alumni Factor rankings are based on the performance of undergraduates from each college. Graduate programs have not been considered.


Alumni Rate Their College Experience

Colleges and universities that earn the top spots in the overall College Experience rankings deliver a transformative, life-altering undergraduate experience to their students who, in turn, leverage its value for a lifetime. Having lived in the real world, graduates are better able than current students to make an objective, informed assessment of their college's true impact. Their holistic and retrospective feedback, from the vantage point of their current life stage, is thus invaluable.

Alumni were asked to comment on these defining elements of their undergraduate experience:

• Intellectual Development

• Social and Communication Skills Development

• Spiritual Development

• Deep Friendship Development

• Friendship Retention – Staying Close to Undergraduate Friends

• Preparation for Career Success • Immediate Job Opportunities

Sharpening the Mind

Developing the mental capabilities of our nation's undergraduates is important business. We entrust many of our best young minds to our colleges and universities with the expectation they will be rigorously exercised and strengthened. Of the seven attributes we measure in assessing the College Experience for graduates, Intellectual Development, fortunately, scores the highest (has the highest Top Box score) when looking across all graduates. As the data in Figure 3.1 indicate, nearly 50% Strongly Agree their college developed them intellectually. That number climbs to 85% when you combine both Strongly Agree and Agree responses. Roughly 13% of all college graduates have mixed feelings (Somewhat Agree or Somewhat Disagree responses), and 2% of graduates Disagree or Strongly Disagree they were developed intellectually. This is excellent news, indeed.

Intellectual development is one of the highest purposes of any educational institution. Most parents, students and teachers cite this as one of the major objectives of undergraduate education.

This is good news for academic institutions in general, although we will see there is a wide disparity between types of institution, and across individual colleges and universities. In fact, Top Box scores among our ranked colleges ranged from a high of 88.5% (Sewanee) to a low of 26.5% (University of Tennessee).

Figure 3.2 shows the difference in the Top Box scores for intellectual development across ten different ranking tiers of colleges and universities.

Graduates of the top-ranked schools believe they've been intellectually developed more than graduates of unranked schools. The Top 50 National Universities score significantly higher than All Unranked Schools, and there is a smaller gap (4.7 points) between the Top 50 National Universities score and the score across All College Grad Respondents. However, it is the Top 50 Liberal Arts Colleges that are rated significantly higher than any other group by their graduates for fostering intellectual development.

Liberal arts colleges comprise 21 of the Top 25 colleges in intellectual development. Among the Top 25, the only four national universities are University of Chicago (7th), Rice University (14th), Yale University (17th) and Caltech (23rd).

Figure 3.3 shows the spread of Top Box percentage scores within each ranked group. There is significant variation not only between groups of colleges, but also within each group.


Excerpted from The Alumni Factor by Alumni Factor. Copyright © 2013 The Alumni Factor. Excerpted by permission of The Alumni Factor.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Introduction....................     iii     

CHAPTER 1 Methodology....................     1     

CHAPTER 2 Exclusive Rankings of Top Colleges and Universities..............     5     

CHAPTER 3 Alumni Rate Their College Experience....................     13     

CHAPTER 4 Overall College Assessment by Alumni....................     35     

CHAPTER 5 Financial Success of Alumni....................     43     

CHAPTER 6 Overall Happiness of Alumni....................     51     

CHAPTER 7 Alumni Giving by College....................     55     

CHAPTER 8 Graduation Rate by College....................     59     

CHAPTER 9 Ultimate OutcomesSM – Our Exclusive Measures of a School's
Effectiveness....................     63     

CHAPTER 10 Social and Political Views by College....................     67     

CHAPTER 11 Summaries of Top Colleges and Universities....................     91     

CHAPTER 12 Statistical Reliability of Our Methodology....................     549     

Indexes....................     554     

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