August 4, 2011 — The University of Virginia again is the leading non-military-academy public university in Forbes Magazine's "America's Top Colleges" rankings, released Wednesday.
U.Va. ranks 46th overall among the 650 undergraduate schools on the Forbes list, which was compiled by the Center for College Affordability & Productivity. The only public institutions rated higher in the rankings – which take into account tuition and student debt – are the United States Military Academy (No. 3), the U.S. Air Force Academy (No. 10) and the U.S. Naval Academy (No. 17), which are all free of charge to students.
Of the top 100 schools on the Forbes list, 89 are private schools. Trailing U.Va. among public schools are the College of William & Mary (No. 49), the University of California, Los Angeles (No. 55), the Virginia Military Institute (No. 65), the University of California, Berkeley (No. 70), the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (No. 74), the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (No. 93), and the United States Coast Guard Academy (No. 97).
Forbes also ranked U.Va. above two Ivy League institutions: Cornell University (No. 51) and the University of Pennsylvania (No. 52).
The two top-rated schools were the same as last year's selections: Williams College was No. 1, followed by Princeton University. The U.S. Military Academy (No. 3) and Amherst College (No. 4) switched places, followed by Stanford and Harvard universities.
The Forbes rankings have a heavy consumerist influence, with a strong emphasis echoing the magazine's business-oriented approach that favors alumni pay and prominence, low student-loan debt, high rankings of professors and student success at winning prestigious scholarships and fellowships.
"Unlike other lists, we pointedly ignore ephemeral measures such as school 'reputation' and ill-conceived metrics that reward wasteful spending. We try and evaluate the college purchase as a consumer would: Is it worth spending as much as a quarter of a million dollars for this degree?" wrote Michael Noer for the magazine.
To that end, rankings of student satisfaction – chiefly from RateMyProfessor.com – account for 27.5 percent of the score. Postgraduate success, including alumni salaries, are weighted 30 percent, and measures of student debt account for 17.5 percent of the score.
Also factored in are the four-year graduation rate (17.5 percent) and competitive awards won by students (7.5 percent).
The commonwealth of Virginia was well represented, with 22 schools appearing on the Forbes list.
In a separate ranking of "The Forbes 100 Best Buy Colleges," the magazine rated U.Va. 44th overall. Those rankings were derived by dividing each school's overall quality score by its in-state tuition and fees. The rankings do not take into direct account financial aid – though student debt factors into the overall quality score.
In the Princeton Review "Guide to the 376 Best Colleges" released earlier this week, U.Va.'s financial aid program, AccessUVa, was rated first in the country among public institutions.
Forbes released its rankings more than a month before the closely watched U.S. News and World Report listings, due out Sept. 13.