How should Catholic families evaluate colleges? Forbes Magazine lists many Catholic colleges high in its annual U.S. college and university rankings, but beware: like most college rankings, Forbes tends to mistake “big” and “popular” for “best.”
Six Catholic schools made it into the top 100 out of the 650 schools listed this year including The University of Notre Dame (No. 12), Boston College (No 26), Georgetown University (No. 38), College of the Holy Cross (No. 41), University of Santa Clara (No. 72), and Villanova University (No. 83). None of these would score very high on a test for Catholic identity, and some (especially Boston, Georgetown, Holy Cross, and Santa Clara) would score very low. And their core curricula and educational philosophy cannot compare to most of the colleges recommended in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.
Some faithful Catholic colleges score well on the Forbes list. It would be impossible to ignore Thomas Aquinas College in California, which is ranked the 111th best college in America (98th among private colleges), and The University of Dallas is ranked 120th.
“Out of 220 Catholic universities in America, to be ranked ninth is quite an achievement, especially when you consider that those ranked above us are much larger and more nationally-known. Our rigorous core curriculum, an extraordinary faculty and a committed student body make UD exceptional,” said John Plotts, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs.
But from The Cardinal Newman Society’s perspective, none of the Newman Guide colleges including Aquinas and Dallas deserves to be ranked behind the likes of the Forbes Top 100. Forbes simply doesn’t care about the core curriculum, or even what is taught, which therefore tells families nothing about the quality of education. “Larger and nationally known” is the prevailing standard, which begs the question of which colleges are truly good. Here’s how colleges are scored:
The rankings are based on five general categories: post graduate success (32.5%), which evaluates alumni pay and prominence, student satisfaction (27.5%), which includes professor evaluations and freshman to sophomore year retention rates, debt (17.5%), which penalizes schools for high student debt loads and default rates, four-year graduation rate (11.25%) and competitive awards (11.25%), which rewards schools whose students win prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes, the Marshall and the Fulbright or go on to earn a Ph.D.
These of course are important factors to consider when choosing a college, but Forbes is unable to put them into context. Alumni pay and prominence, retention rates, financial aid, loan defaults, and four-year graduation rate are often heavily influenced by the wealth of the institution and/or the wealth of students’ families. Donations to colleges and the portion of students from wealthy families, in turn, are heavily influenced by the popularity and size of an institution.
Size and selectivity in admissions have a lot to do with the number of student awards, which are also influenced by the popularity of the college attended.
And how does one adequately judge a college’s academic quality by student satisfaction and professor evaluations? Students choosing a secular university or a secularized Catholic university are hardly likely to evaluate their experience according to the standards of a rigorous, faithfully Catholic education.
The third edition of The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College will be released this fall, with all-new essays helping Catholic families make the best decisions in their college search. Save the cost of a Forbes subscription; The Newman Guide is available free online.
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