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James L. Bock, vice president and dean of Admissions at Swarthmore College, talks with prospective students on April 24, 2014 at the college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. / Martin Froger-Silva, Swarthmore College

A new college ranking list declares Babson College ?? a small, business-oriented school in Massachusetts ?? the best value school in the nation, above traditional favorites like Harvard and Princeton.

The list, published by Money magazine July 28, assesses which colleges give students the best "bang for their tuition buck" by measuring educational quality, affordability and career outcomes.

It's the most recent addition to the college ranking game, which includes such prominent players as U.S. News and World Report, Forbes and Princeton Review.

"They're just one tool that students and parents have at their disposal," said Jim Bock, dean of admissions at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. "Rankings can be used as a starting point, but they shouldn't determine where a student matriculates."

Anthony Sganga, a senior at New York University, said he used rankings from U.S. News and the Center for World University Rankings to narrow the list of schools he applied to.

"Rankings are similar to a product review," Sganga said. "You want to know the value of what you are paying for. ... I think both students and employers take note of colleges that are highly ranked."

U.S. News has been the dominant publication in the ranking business since it put out its first list in 1983. It measures schools based on graduation rates, faculty information, admission data and peer assessments from top academics at peer institutions.

In recent years, there's been a surge of new rankings ?? which evaluate colleges on everything from their economic value to how much their students give back to the community.

"They're sensational, designed to sell magazines," said Nancy Griesemer, an independent college counselor in northern Virginia. "People pay attention because it's human nature to be curious."

Griesemer said the positive impact of the increasing diversity of ranking systems is that high school students and their parents focus less on traditional rankings than in the past.

"Fewer parents come in insisting that their child go to a U.S. News top 20 school," Griesemer said. "But those parents still exist."

Julia Craven, who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this spring, said rankings "absolutely" played a part in her choice.

"I wanted a school that was prestigious, and close to home," Craven said. "A school where the degree would speak for itself."

But Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., said surveys of their incoming freshmen show that rankings weren't the primary factor in their decision-making process.

And a 2013 University of California survey given to hundreds of thousands of incoming freshmen showed that college rankings in national magazines were "very important" to only 17.6% of respondents.

Students instead said the most important factors in their decision-making were academic reputations, the jobs graduates got and the cost of attendance.

"Parents and students should focus less on rank than finding the right fit in terms of the type of school and the programs that it offers," Nesbitt said.

Shira Kipnees, a senior at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., says she wanted a school where she would be happy that also did well in the rankings. She says that although she reads the rankings, she she recognizes that most are "superficial and filled with nonsense."

Nesbitt and Bock both said the students who pay the most attention to rankings come from overseas.

"International students might rely more heavily on rankings because they might not have the luxury of being able to visit, or because their culture places could place more value on rankings," Nesbitt said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: College ranking lists: Abundant but not so influential

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