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Culture / Newsy

The Best College Winners

Two Texas Schools Zoom Up the Rankings, Shocking the Doubters

BY // 08.03.16

The often-crippling burden of college loans is drawing more and more attention — and political debate. But it turns out that this climate of uncertainty makes it an even better time to get an education in Texas.

Two Texas universities — one expected, one a major surprise — have skyrocketed up the Best Colleges rankings thanks to a crucial metric that’s more timely than ever. Money magazine’s annual Best Colleges list is based completely around value. It’s all about which schools benefit their graduates most in real life. To be a considered a top college in these rankings, the university must be highly ranked academically, “affordable” and produce alumni who make impressive salaries.

In other words, these are the schools that deliver major bang for those tuition bucks.

Rice University — Houston’s version of an Ivy League school — jumped up 10 spots from last year’s rankings, all the way up to No. 4 in America. Annise Parker’s alma mater trails only  No. 1 Princeton, surprise No. 2 University of Michigan and No. 3 Harvard. That’s not just lofty company, it’s the dinner party of the college Gods.

The Owls earned a seat at the table by costing an estimated $58,600 to attend for a year (slightly less than Princeton and Harvard, which are both more than 60 grand in yearly costs), giving 52 percent of its students some type of financial aid and churning out graduates who pull down $63,700 a year in average early-career earnings. That last number is higher than what both Princeton and Harvard grads make in early career earnings (defined as the first five years post-graduation) — and only Stanford grads with their $68,600 average salaries make more than Rice grads among the Top 20 schools.

Earning power means something real. You may not be able to take your money with you, but when you’re around,  having more changes your life for the better in many tangible ways.

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Of course, not having to pay as much money for college and still walking away with a nice paycheck means plenty, too. This the route Texas A&M University took to its surprise No. 13 ranking, another big jump from the 2015 Best Colleges list.

Aggie Power comes through thanks to a $23,900 yearly price tag to attend (which is somehow modest by today’s college tuition standards) and a $55,100 average salary in early-career earnings. That’s a significant return on investment no matter what your metric is.

Texas A&M’s arch-rival (in everything but sports now), the University of Texas at Austin, does not do nearly as well. UT finds itself 50th in the nation, which illustrates how a slightly higher tuition ($27,400) and a slightly lower early career salary ($53,000) can make a major difference in rankings as highly contested as these.

Tiny St. Mary’s University in San Antonio is close on Texas’ heels, taking the 52nd spot out of the more than 700 American universities ranked. The University of Texas at Dallas is the only other state school in the Top 100. The University of Houston comes in at No. 257, mostly knocked down by its 63 percent acceptance rate and average SAT scores.

These rankings are ruthless, exacting, and largely unforgiving. Then again, trying to make a living in America these days can be all those things, too. Having data on your side never hurts. It may not be a sexy or romantic way to pick where to go to college, but it’s your money.

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