Niche Most Expensive Ranking Methodology

The Most Expensive ranking assesses the average net price at traditional four-year colleges and universities in the United States. It uses data sourced from the U.S. Department of Education.

A high ranking indicates that students who receive financial aid still pay a high net price to attend the institution.

Colleges Assessed by this Ranking

At the time of calculation, our database contained records for 2,245 public and private, traditional four-year colleges and universities across the United States. For the purposes of this ranking, a "traditional" college is considered to be any accredited, non-profit post-secondary institution that primarily offers four-year degree programs (as opposed to two-year or less). Some colleges were not included in this ranking if: (1) they were not located in one of the 50 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia; (2) they had fewer than 100 full-time undergraduate students; or (3) they had insufficient data (see below). The final ranking results in 1,454 colleges receiving a numerical ranking.

Factors Considered

FactorDescriptionSourceWeight
Average Net Price Average cost after financial aid for students receiving grant or scholarship aid. U.S. Department of Education 100%

Statistics obtained from the U.S. Department of Education represent the most recent data available, usually from either 2012–2013 or 20132014, as self-reported by the colleges.

Computation

The process used to compute this ranking was as follows:

  1. First, we carefully selected the factors listed above to represent a healthy balance between statistical rigor and practical relevance in the ranking.
  2. Next, we evaluated the data for each factor to ensure that it provided value for the ranking. (The factor needed to help distinguish colleges from each other and accurately represent each college.) Because there are different factor types, we processed them differently:
    • Factors built from student-submitted survey responses were individually analyzed to determine a required minimum number of responses. After this, responses were aggregated. We logically have a higher degree of confidence in the aggregated score for colleges with more responses, so a Bayesian method was applied to reflect this confidence.
    • Factors built from factual information were inspected for bad data, including outliers or inaccurate values. Where applicable, this data was either adjusted or completely excluded depending on the specific data.
  3. After each factor was processed, we produced a standardized score (called a z-score) for each factor at each college. This score evaluates distance from the average using standard deviations and allows each college's score to be compared against others in a statistically sound manner.
  4. With clean and comparable data, we then assigned weights for each factor. The goal of the weighting process was to ensure that no one factor could have a dramatic positive or negative impact on a particular college's final score and that each college's final score was a fair representation of the college's performance. Weights were carefully determined by analyzing:
    • How different weights impacted the distribution of ranked colleges;
    • Niche student user preferences and industry research;
    • Each factor's contribution to our intended goal of the ranking described in the introduction above.
  5. After assigning weights, an overall score was calculated for each college by applying the assigned weights to each college's individual factor scores. This overall score was then assigned a new standardized score (again a z-score, as described in step 3). This is the final score for the ranking.
  6. With finalized scores, we then evaluated the completeness of the data for each individual college. Depending on how much data the college had, we might disqualify it from the numerical ranking. Here is how we distinguished these groups using the weights described in step 4:
    • Colleges missing the data for 50 percent or more of the factors (by weight) were completely excluded. They did not qualify for the numerical ranking. Note: This exclusion occurred before calculation of the final z-score.
    • Colleges that had all of the factors and more than 1,500 full-time undergraduate students were deemed eligible for a numerical ranking.
  7. Lastly, we created a numerical ranking (based on qualifications discussed in step 6). Here is how we produced these values:
    • The numerical ranking was created by ordering each college (when qualified) based on the final z-score discussed in step 5.

The Outcome

Of the 2,245 colleges analyzed, 1,454 received a numerical ranking. The top ranked college was School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

It's important to note that the values for each college in this ranking are averages across all students. An individual student’s final net price to attend an institution will vary based on their household income and merit aid.

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