ETC College Ranking Index - Data Methodology and FAQ

Data and Methodology

The ETC college ranking system empirically determines the economic value added, by each college ranked within our system. We define economic value added as being the improvement in earnings and employability of graduates; measured against the total cost of the education.

Some of the metrics used in calculating the college rankings are:


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the basic criteria for schools included in your ranking system?
The ETC College Rankings Index is comprised of accredited 4 year colleges, with annual enrollments greater than 1,000 students. The Index analyzes data for over 1,200 colleges, representing 94% of all students enrolled in 4 year colleges.

Does your system use SAT or ACT scores as a component of your ranking system?
Only to the extent that we control for the quality of students as an input measure for each school. We control for the aptitude of the student populations of all schools we rank. In plain English, students with lower SAT scores typically earn less money over the course of a career than do their counterparts with higher SAT scores, when controlling for educational attainment.

There is a small, local college near me that is not included in your rankings. Why did they not make the cut?
For purposes of statistical significance, we include 4 year schools with annual enrollment that exceeds 1,000 students.

Will you do a ranking system for 2 year colleges in the future?
This is unlikely as the vast majority of 2 year schools function exactly as they should which is to provide a good education (that is typically transferrable) at an extremely reasonable price. Furthermore, the 2 year schools are a terrific starting point for college students who are undecided in their college and career planning.

I see a lot of state schools ranking highly in your system. Why is this?
Public, state run schools generally provide a very good education for an excellent price. The result being that many of these schools offer an excellent value relative to most other categories of colleges. Academic standards are uniformly high in most state schools and a relatively high percentage of their graduates enter the workforce successfully; with meaningful occupations and high relative salaries. Additionally, graduates from these state schools typically have low debt loads which translates ultimately to low loan default rates.

The impetus for our College Rankings Index is to provide reliable information that helps students develop successful careers with a low financial burden. Therefore, we encourage value conscious students and parents to strongly consider their in-state public college system. In almost all regions of the U. S., you have access to a very good education, at a heavily subsidized price.

How does the ETC College Rankings Index compare with the proposed Obama College Scorecard / Postsecondary Institutions Rating System (PIRS)?
There are similarities in that both systems place a high value on graduation rates, low cost and other immediate graduation/outcome information. The ETC Index is going at least one step further however by also incorporating workplace success metrics such as the utilization of the field of study in the occupation and earnings within 1 year of graduation. We also factor in student loan payback rates, default rates and financial factors which affect graduates as much as 20 years out after completion of college.

I noticed that most Ivy League schools and other institutions of a similar ilk are not at the top of your rankings. Why is this?
We have a lot to say on this point... Our rankings methodology measures the improvement in earnings and employability that a school provides to its students, relative to cost. The 'elite' schools typically admit only students with the highest SAT scores. Very high achieving students tend to perform well in the workforce, regardless of where they attend college and even if they do not attend college. Also note, there is a high correlation between income and IQ, regardless of educational attainment, and this is especially true at the top end of the scale.

Our data show that many elite schools in the U. S. are more adept at selecting winners than they are in creating winners. In essence, a high percentage of these schools start with an all-star team at the admissions office and their graduates range between working in the hospitality sector to being founders of some of the most successful companies in the world.

How does your ETC College Ranking Index compare with other college ranking systems?
When reviewing some of the other ranking systems, what we have observed is that SAT and ACT scores are commonly relied upon as a proxy for the quality of the education delivered by the schools. SAT and ACT scores indicate the quality of the students and in most instances, are not correlated with the quality of education provided by a school.

How should I incorporate the college rankings into my college and career planning process?
For starters, understand the purpose of our rankings system. We developed it to enable you to identify schools that provide a quality education with proven career placement records, at the lowest possible cost. We define 'quality education' as being the development of a skill set that is marketable, i.e. a real career with stable earnings.

Be realistic and develop a plan whereby you calculate all of the costs related to your college education. Do the homework necessary to plan the earnings you will have upon graduation and calculate your anticipated borrowing requirements (if any) and how long it will take you to pay back any debt obligations.

Finally, take advantage of the educational resources that are available to you. If you can be accepted by a school in your home state, run the numbers and you'll see that it is very difficult to justify an additional $15,000 to $20,000 annually to attend a school out of state. If you are not familiar with the concepts of debt, interest and repayment terms, take a summer accounting course at a 2 year college BEFORE you take on any financial obligations.

What is more important; selection of a school or the major field of study?
We provide facts, not opinions. The data show that both are important to a successful career outcome. However, the selection of major is more closely mapped to a successful or unsuccessful career outcome as opposed to the school.

Which majors should I consider and which should I avoid?
There is not a simple answer to this question. You should absolutely consider the field of study that you're good at and steer clear of what you're not good at. However, some majors are literally dead ends for all but the very best students. Our CareerBuddy program can assist you in the determining majors and careers which are consistent with your capabilities.

You should never lose sight of the fact that after graduation, you are going to have to find an employer that values your skill set enough to pay for it. The reality is that in many fields, there simply aren't enough job openings or there are too many job applicants, or both.

Ultimately, jobs that are relevant to the marketplace are the ones to focus on. Determine those that make sense for you to pursue, construct a coherent college and career plan, and implement your plan with financial discipline each step of the way.

Do you intend to include information regarding for-profit colleges on your site?
Yes, we have the data necessary to add for-profit colleges and a future version of the Index will include those schools.

How is the salary information determined?
This is done by aggregating all of the employed recent graduates from a school and majors within the school, and then calculating the average salary.

Why are your salary numbers substantially lower than what I've seen from other sources?
The salary values shown here are based on ALL persons employed full time, within 1 year of graduation. Following is an example of the concept of our salary calculation methodology.
ACME University had 6 persons graduating with accounting degrees last year, 4 of whom are now working full time: The average salary for graduates of ACME University with accounting degrees is $28,750. This is in contrast to the typical practice of reporting the salaries of only those persons who became accountants. Most other systems would report $45,000.

If it is true that a college degree could add over $1,000,000 to my career earnings, why should I be concerned with the cost of school?
First point- the additional $1,000,000 assumes that you will obtain a degree in a high value field.

With respect to the cost of a school, when you calculate the total cost of obtaining a degree including interest expenses, you will see that it can take over 20 years to pay back your loan obligations for schools costing over $20,000 annually. Furthermore, the higher the cost of your education, the more likely you are to pass the threshold of not meeting your debt obligations and going into default.

Why does ETC place so much emphasis on career outcomes, debt management and salaries?
College is not a career in itself- it is a stepping stone/training to a career. It is where young people acquire skills that should enable them to become self-sufficient and contributing members to society.

Do you have information on specific individuals and the companies that employ them?
No. Identifying information regarding individuals and companies is suppressed.

Does ETC advocate any policy positions regarding education and career planning?
No. We are impartial. We provide facts to students and clients to enable informed decision making.

Does ETC advocate any specific education and career planning guidance for students?
Yes. We feel strongly that every student should utilize all of the education resources available to attain the level of education necessary to become employed in the career they have identified, and they should do so with a strong emphasis on managing costs and debt to the best extent possible.

Do you have information regarding sports, music or extracurricular activities?
No. Our system does not take into consideration factors which are irrelevant to economic value. Our scoring model has no provision for quality of life metrics or other intangible characteristics.

What credentials does ETC have to provide the kind of information it offers?
Our data partner, Job Search Intelligence (JSI) is the leading provider of information relating to educational attainment and career outcomes. JSI's data is relied upon by more than 4,800 employers including over half of the Fortune 500, some of the largest student loan servicers in the U. S., over 3,000 university career centers and career planning offices, compensation consultancies, and millions of job seekers annually.

I see that your Premium Data report is $100. That's a lot of money - why?
We are a non-profit. Our fees are used to cover the cost of data, software, salaries and overhead. Data and software account for over 90% of our costs.
If you're seriously contemplating spending 4 years + tuition on education, $100 for this information is an excellent investment

I am looking for information relating to a school that I don't see as being available of your website. What can I do?
Our proprietary research services are available at $400 per hour. Send us your questions and we will contact you to discuss your inquiry contact@educatetocareer.org


Characteristics of Colleges by Their Rank:

Colleges in the top 1/3 of the ETC Index

Colleges in the lower 1/3 of the ETC Index






Job Search Intelligence, LLC is the primary data provider for ETC. JSI provides the following statement regarding its sources of data: The data are derived from a plurality of sources within government agencies and educational institutions. These sources include and are not limited to: U. S. Department of Labor, U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, U. S. Census Bureau, Common Data Set Initiative, U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U. S. Federal Reserve. All data and methodologies are protected by copyright, patents and pending patents. All rights reserved.