CMC Drops 11 Spots In Forbes Rankings

The rating season started out with an underwhelming score for Claremont McKenna College by Forbes magazine, which released its 2012 college rankings yesterday, August 1. CMC was ranked the 23rd best college in America this year, falling eleven spots from last year's position at 12th.

Forbes, an American business magazine, emphasized the value of the schools that they rank and asked whether the education offered by America’s elite universities justifies the exorbitant cost. In the introduction to this year’s rankings, they asked simply, “Is it worth it?”

All five Claremont Colleges made it into the top 200 in the Forbes ranking:

9th -  Pomona College

23rd - Claremont McKenna College

28th - Harvey Mudd College

54th - Scripps College

110th - Pitzer College

What caused the drop?

This year's movement wasn't CMC's largest. Between 2009 to 2010, CMC rose from 26th to 9th, a total of seventeen spots.

Still, its tumble down the list by eleven spots will surely disappoint some, and leave others asking for an explanation.

Some may worry that this drop is connected to the SAT score "scandal" revealed this past January. Since Forbes doesn't take into account test scores or peer reviews, however, the impact of the scandal on this result should have been minimal. Instead, both changing conditions at other schools and changes in the ranking methodology may have played roles in CMC's change in position.

Forbes, in conjunction with the Center for College Affordability in Washington, D.C., measures the value of schools based on five categories with different weighting. These include Student Satisfaction, Post-Graduate Success, Student Debt, Four-year Graduation Rate, and Academic Success.

Although these categories remained the same as last year, the manner in which Forbes calculates some of them has changed. Forbes posted both the 2011 methodology and the 2012 methodology online. We have summarized this year's changes below.

Post-graduate Success

The weighting of the post-graduate success category increased by 2.5%, from 30.0% to 32.5%. This category is calculated by measuring the prominence of a school’s alumni and their relative pay scale.

In 2011, Forbes used the Forbes CCAP Corporate Officers List to calculate a portion of the score. In 2012, the magazine used the “American Leaders List” in its place. Unlike the Corporate Officers List, which lists only the CEOs and Board Members of major American companies, the American Leaders List also includes Presidents and Board Members at non-profit organizations and federal officials, including elected officials, appointed officials, and high-ranking judges.

If CMC alumni had a greater representation on the Forbes/CCAP Corporate Officers List than on the American Leaders List, that may have hurt its post-graduate success score.

Graduation Rate

The four-year graduation rate was given a much larger weight in the 2011 rankings than in the 2012 rankings. In 2011, a school’s score in the graduation rate category accounted for 17.5% of its overall score. In 2012, that weighting fell to just 11.25%. In addition, a greater emphasis has been placed on the “Predicted vs. Actual Four-year Graduation Rate.”

In one possible scenario, CMC’s graduation rate may have given it an edge over other schools more in 2011 than in 2012 because of the higher weighting it was given.

It should be noted, though, that CMC’s 2012 four-year graduation rate of 84% does not stack up very well against many of the schools in the top 10. In fact, in 2010, when CMC reached its best historical score on the Forbes ranking list, its four-year graduation rate was 92%, a rate that would have beaten that of this year’s winner, Princeton University.

Alumni Who Receive Ph.D.s

Forbes now takes into consideration the number of alumni from a school who go on to receive Ph.D.s. Although this figure does not carry a heavy weighting -- it represents just 3.75% of the final score -- it is a notable change in the focus of the Academic Success category. If alumni of CMC are less likely to pursue Ph.D.s than those of other schools, the inclusion of this metric may have influenced the results.

It is difficult to say what exactly caused CMC’s slide in the rankings, but a variety of factors surely played a role.

More organizations and publications, including U.S. News and World Report, are due to release their college rankings in the coming months. Because each agency uses different methods to calculate scores, Forbes' ranking may or may not be a good predictor of things to come. But 9th, 23rd, or 142nd, students will always be happy to step back onto campus at CMC.