Money Magazine: Niagara University is Region’s Highest Ranking Private Institution

August 14, 2015  |  by Michael Freedman

Niagara University delivers the most value for a student’s educational dollar among all private colleges and universities in the Buffalo-Niagara region, according to Money magazine’s “2015 Best Colleges.”

The Catholic and Vincentian institution was the highest-ranked private institution in the area in the study released Tuesday, which evaluated roughly 1,500 American schools on 21 measures of educational quality, affordability and career earnings. Only 736 schools made the list.

“We are very pleased that our institution-wide priority on access, affordability and postgraduate success is being recognized by prominent national publications like Money magazine,” stated the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University. “At Niagara, we are committed to being accountable to our students and their families, engaging them in ways that unlocks the doors to their successful futures.”

Mark Schneider, former head of the National Center for Education Statistics and current president of College Measures, collaborated with Money magazine to develop the rankings. The careers website PayScale.com provided earnings data for the schools’ alumni, as well as analysis of those earnings based on what types of majors predominate at the schools.

The study closely examined the institutions’ four-year graduation rates, the net price of a degree and average early career earnings, and graded the schools on “value-added,” a measure that considered how well students at each school did versus what would be expected given their economic and academic backgrounds and the institution’s mix of majors.

Among the factors considered in the affordability analysis were merit aid, parent and student borrowing, the length of time to graduate and tuition increases, along with other measures.

Niagara University earned a B+ for its value-added grade. The net price of a degree at NU was calculated to be $118,007 while early career earnings were tabulated at $39,100. The four-year graduate rate at Niagara of 65 percent places it at the high end of the spectrum, according to the study, which stated that the statistic is “generally recognized as the most important measure of educational quality.”

In announcing the results, it was noted that, nationally, on average, only 39 percent of students graduate in four years. Even finishing in six years – the standard gauge calculated by the federal government – can be a challenge.

“The best school you can go to is the best one you can graduate from,” said Rachel Fishman, an education policy analyst at think tank New America.

Also present in the analysis was acknowledgment of the importance of liberal arts preparation in readying college graduates for success in the workplace.

Saying you have to choose between a liberal arts and a preprofessional degree, “is kind of dumbing down the conversation. It’s not ‘either/or.’ It is ‘and,’” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup’s education division.

A school, like Niagara University, that is liberal arts-based and balances academics with real-world practicality is the best value, the report indicated. In a 2013 Hart Research Associates survey, most employers said the most successful workers had both field-specific and broad skills and knowledge.

“Biologists need to be able to write and speak effectively and actors must develop financial skills. The multidisciplinary approach we take to academics at Niagara University allows our graduates to enjoy well-rounded lives as productive members of their workplaces and society,” said Dr. Timothy Downs, NU’s provost.

One more factor that Money magazine suggested students and parents examine during the college search process was experiential learning. “Look for colleges that connect coursework to the real world,” suggested Peter Cappelli, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School and author of the book Will College Pay Off? “People learn best in the context of real problems.”

One can assume Niagara University scored well in that metric as well, considering that hands-on learning is a hallmark of the NU experience, where practical opportunities abound – on campus, in the community and worldwide. More than 70 classes at Niagara have a service-learning requirement, and education majors routinely log thousands of hours of volunteer teaching in local schools. NU students studying three different academic disciplines – teacher education, business administration and French – are presently interning at an educational facility, for example.

This marks the second time Money magazine has released a list of “Best Colleges.” To see the full results, please visit http://time.com/money/best-colleges.