"These rankings are based on a pure and distinct focus on data," says Bill Phelan, co-founder and CEO of College Factual, which aims to help students make better career and college decisions. "We don't count previous reputations … providing a more unbiased view."
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The rankings include 1,394 four-year universities nationwide. They focus more heavily on outcomes, such as starting salary and student loan default rates, rather than inputs, such as acceptance rates.
"We also don't stop at the top 10 or 100 like other rankings … the lower 50% of schools is just as important as the top," says McWilliam, CF vice president.
The top three universities in College Factual's survey:
UPenn ranks first with a six to one student to faculty ratio and a "high earnings boost" — meaning grads of particular majors overall earn more than those of the same major nationwide. UPenn snagged Harvard's first-place ranking for 2014.
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"The biggest factor shift was student loan default rates … Harvard went down 32 spots on its default rate ranking and UPenn went up 72 spots," McWilliam says.
Yale ranks second. The very selective Ivy in New Haven, Conn. boasts high graduation rates of 96.2% and, McWilliam says, a reasonable price tag compared to schools of similar quality.