WSJ / THE List of the Top 100 US Colleges by Spending on Instruction & Student Services

The Wall Street Journal & Times Higher Education ranked 1,000 US Colleges. The results were released in September, 2018. Thirty (30%) percent of the rating process included “Resources” which ranked schools’ spending on instruction and student services. Details of the methodology can be found at

In an earlier thread, I listed elite colleges & universities which offer the most small classes. This thread ranks college & university spending resources benefitting students. The top ranked LACs start at #24 below. National Universities captured the top 23 spots.

  1. Caltech

  2. Harvard

  3. MIT

  4. Princeton

  5. Vanderbilt

  6. Brown

  7. Northwestern

  8. Rice

  9. Columbia

  10. Univ. of Chicago

  11. Univ. of Pennsylvania

  12. Dartmouth College

  13. Yale

  14. Cornell

  15. Duke

  16. WashUStL

  17. Stanford

  18. Tufts

  19. Emory

  20. CMU

  21. USC

  22. Johns Hopkins

  23. Tulane

  24. Pomona College

  25. Williams College

  26. Wellesley College

  27. Haverford College

  28. Notre Dame

  29. Claremont McKenna

  30. Amherst College

  31. Swarthmore College

  32. Case Western Reserve

  33. Univ. of Rochester

  34. USMA-West Point

  35. Wesleyan

  36. Bryn Mawr

  37. Middlebury College

  38. Bowdoin College

  39. Lehigh University

  40. Smith College

  41. Wash & Lee

  42. Univ. of Richmond

  43. Wake Forest Univ.

  44. NYU

  45. Colgate

  46. Vassar College

  47. Carleton College

  48. Grinnell College

  49. Whitman College

  50. Georgetown University

  51. Bucknell University

  52. Hamilton College

  53. Oberlin College

  54. Trinity Univ. (Texas)

  55. Reed College

  56. Skidmore College

  57. Yeshiva Univ.

  58. Boston University

  59. Catholic University

  60. Lafayette College

  61. Brandeis

  62. Colby College

  63. Franklin & Marshall

  64. Kenyon College

  65. Mount Holyoke

  66. Connecticut College

  67. Albany Coll. of Pharmacy & Health Sciences

  68. Bates College

  69. St. Louis Univ.

  70. Davidson College

  71. Denison University

  72. Macalester College

  73. Colorado College

  74. Earlham College

  75. Bard College

  76. Gettysburg College

  77. Univ. of Miami

  78. Scripps College

  79. Union College

  80. Holy Cross

  81. Sarah Lawrence

  82. DePauw

  83. Hobart & Wm. Smith

  84. Wheaton College (Mass.)

  85. Howard Univ.

  86. Creighton University

  87. Barnard College

  88. Trinity College (Conn.)

  89. Sewanee-The Univ. of the South

  90. Univ. of Michigan

  91. Purdue

  92. Drexel Univ.

  93. Rhodes College

  94. Dickinson College

  95. Univ. of Tulsa

  96. RISD

  97. Allegheny College

  98. UNC-Chapel Hill

  99. Univ. of Detroit-Mercy

  100. SMU

  101. UCLA

  102. Boston College

  103. Penn State

  104. College of Wm. & Mary

  105. Univ. of Pittsburgh

  106. UC-Davis

  107. Seattle University

  108. UC-Berkeley

  109. UC-San Diego

  110. Univ. of Virginia

  111. NC State

  112. Univ. of Texas-Austin

  113. Ohio State

  114. Syracuse University

  115. Indiana Univ. -Bloomington

  116. Univ. of Florida

  117. Georgia Tech

I have the same criticism I had for the class size survey: There are so many ways of arriving at misleading results and is a little bit like judging a church by counting its pews. Would you really want to attend a church with only 10 other people in attendance?

Just looked at the site. Wow the data seems very dated. At least the average salaries looks to be dated. Yeah, better than my salary after 100 years but still not what they are being offered fresh out.

However, the spending numbers may have some accounting quirks. For example, does UCLA really spend more than twice as much per student as any other UC?

Data should be from the last few years. Article is dated August 31, 2018. In some instances the WSJ averaged more than one year of data in order to get a more stable picture. But WSJ & THE title this as their 2019 survey.

This is the only part of the rankings that is based on actual data, not on more subjective surveys.

@circuitrider: You are definitely a “glass half empty” poster.

All of the churches in this list are overflowing with applicants so I have no idea why you are so negative. I find this to be helpful information. Good to know which schools prioritize spending on instruction & student services.

This is a metric that clearly favors the much more expensive elite private universities. When you pay several times more in tuition, you can expect more "resources.

The first public university on the list is Michigan at 91, followed by Purdue at 92 Lets compare Purdue to UF(which is rocking it at 346).

Finance per student.
They use the IPEDS numbers, so lets compare those using 2016 data.
Instructional Expenditures/Total FTE:
UF: $16,438
Purdue: $19,218
Educational & General Expenditures/Total FTE (as above but includes expenditures for research, academic support, student services, scholarships, etc.)
UF: $59,383
Purdue: $43,444

Lets assume they are using the first category and not the second. However, as you can see, it’s not a simple comparison. While the IPEDs formula is standard, how each college handles it’s budget is unique.

Faculty per Student.

Full-Time Undergraduates / Full-Time Faculty Ratio: The number of full-time undergraduates divided by the number of full-time faculty. (IPEDS)
UF: 7
Purdue 12

UF is much lower, because it has more faculty, with about the same number of undergraduates as Purdue. However, a lot of these faculty support the professional programs (Law, Medical, etc.) or mostly support grad students (UF has about twice the number of grad students as Purdue) and don’t teach undergraduates.

Note, this is based on IPEDs and not the Common Data set. Two very different calculations for student to faculty ratios. The common data set tries to adjust the ratio to take into consideration these different factors.

Finally, research papers per faculty.

Who knows, I’m not digging through Elsevier. However, looking at the NSF data for total R&D spending (2017), UF Is 25th with $801M, while Purdue is 37th with $622M. That’s about a 23% difference.

That “research papers per faculty” metric also has a bad tendency to be “gamed” (by universities outside of the US, domestic university don’t pay attention to this metric.), by adding multiple names (in some cases hundreds of names) to the same paper. The WSJ/THE have recently tried to address this issue by “limiting” the number of names they will count per paper, but it’s still an on-going issue.

TLDR version => :-??

None of this is new. USNews has occupied this field for years and I had the same criticism when they got the ball rolling so many years ago by attempting to scientize college choice. I have nothing against making data - any data - available. However, the ranking process makes a mockery of scientific inquiry by turning the process into the educational equivalent of Predestination, i.e., the idea that the accumulation of wealth in the smallest possible number of parishioners somehow demonstrates the earthly visibility of saints. Frankly, I thought this sort of thing went out with Cotton Mather, but, to put it in more contemporary terms, I think you make a mistake by inferring that Berkeley offers an inferior educational experience compared to Wesleyan simply because it spends less money per student. On the contrary, I think Wesleyan is a better institution - for the right student - for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that it spends more money per student.

I’m with @circuitrider, but will take it one step further. The glass isn’t half full or half empty. The concept of the glass is stupid. It assumes we all want to drink the exact same thing, and we don’t. Case in point, not one but two full professors at this list’s number one institution dissuaded my son from even applying. In the words of one “Caltech is not an undergraduate institution.” What do they see about their own school as absolute insiders that the rankings get totally wrong? Should we have completely disregarded their warnings because some list interested in selling clicks says otherwise? Now let’s look these specific lists. The order of the top US institutions are different in the world rank versus the US rank. Stanford is the top US institution in the world, but only the 6th institution in the US. We obsess over these things because most of us need affirmation. We don’t trust our own vetting abilities. The very nature of ranking schools is completely specious. This list does do ONE thing. It completely validates the notion that where a school ranks will be EXTREMELY variable based on methodology. Figure out what YOU care about and make your OWN list.

When you have a research university, you can never really be sure how anything labeled instruction is actually spent. The accepted accounting practices allow them to classify money that is actually spent on research as instruction. This can be a huge amount of money in many cases and these institutions can even use tuition to help subsidize research. You can see a summary here from a former Provost:

@Gator88NE wrote: “This is a metric which clearly favors the much more expensive elite private universities. When you pay … more in tuition, you can expect more in resources.”

I agree that elite private universities provide more in resources to students than do publics.

I do not agree that students pay more for elite private schools, however.

Many publics require a fifth year of undergraduate work due to unavailability of required courses.

For those receiving grant aid at elite private schools, the cost is often less than paying tuition at public flagships–although Florida public universities are unusually inexpensive for residents.

US News: Great Schools, Great Prices after receiving grant (not loans) aid based on financial need.


Princeton & Harvard offer 77% discounts to well over half of their undergraduate students resulting in net cost of attendance of about $16,000 per year.

MIT offers an average 71% discount to 60% of the undergraduates.
Yale gives an average 74% discount to 50% of undergrads.
Stanford gives an average 72% discount to about 47% of undergrads.
Columbia an average 73% discount to 50% of undergraduates.
Vanderbilt gives an average 70% discount to about 50% of undergrads.

Caltech = 66% average discount to 52%.
Dartmouth College = 68% average discount to 48%.
Penn = 64% avg. discount to 46%.
Duke = 65% avg. discount to 41%.
Rice = 63% avg. discount to 38%.

Northwestern = 63% avg. discount to 44%.
Chicago = 62% avg. discount to 42%.
Brown = 64% avg. discount to 41%.
Johns Hopkins = 56% avg. discount to 48%.

Emory = 59% avg. discount to 43%.
WashUStL = 61% avg. discount to 41%.
Cornell = 58% avg. discount to 46%.
Notre Dame = 56% avg. discount to 47%.


Williams College = 73% avg. discount to 51% of undergraduates.
Pomona College = 74% avg. discount to 57%.
Amherst College = 72% avg. discount to 57%.
Swarthmore College = 71% avg. discount to 56%.

Wellesley College = 68% avg. discount to 58%.
Vassar College = 68% avg. discount to 62%.
Davidson College = 67% avg. discount to 50%.
Middlebury College = 68% avg. discount to 44%.

Smith College = 66% avg. discount to 61%.
Grinnell College = 63% avg. discount to 65%.
Earlham College = 65% avg. discount to 88%.

Haverford College = 68% avg. discount to 47%.
Wash & Lee = 67% avg. discount to 43%.
Bowdoin College = 66% avg. discount to 46%.
Colby College = 68% avg. discount to 42%.

Wesleyan University = 66% avg. discount to 41%.
Hamilton College = 63% avg. discount to 51%.
Claremont McKenna = 65% avg. discount to 40%.
Franklin & Marshall College = 65% avg. discount to 54%.

Carleton College = 59% avg. discount to 55%.
Centre College = 57% avg. discount to 59%.
Bates College = 62% avg. discount to 43%.
Bryn Mawr = 61% avg. discount to 52%.

Wofford College = 58% avg. discount to 63%.
Trinity College = 66% avg. discount to 48%.
Lawrence University = 58% avg. discount to 60%.
Mount Holyoke = 55% avg. discount to 65%.

One poster quoted a Caltech professor : " Caltech is not an undergraduate institution."

My understanding is that Caltech undergraduates get the equivalent of a graduate education.

Most cases of late graduation are due to students who are weaker academically and have difficulty with full course loads, or who have to work to afford school and do not have the time for a full course load.

Where course offerings could be an issue is probably also student related. Some students have work schedules that limit what times they can take courses. Others forego 8am courses even if that would delay graduation.

@Publisher, that’s not what they were remotely intimating. What they directly said was that Caltech was a great graduate school, but they would not recommend the undergraduate program. Period. Not one. Two. Independently.

@eyemgh I’ve read your quote from the 2 Caltech professors before, and wondered whether you told them about your son and his interests before they answered?

Perhaps they thought it might not be a good fit for him when making their recommendations? Calpoly is really hands on; Caltech majors have practical content, but a lot of the coursework is theoretical. A lot of engineers like a more hands on approach.

(Also, you sometimes say “Caltech/JPL professors,” and generally the folks who spend significant time at JPL only interact with undergrads when they are doing summer research.)

My son is an undergrad physics major at Caltech. Yes, it is hard, but he really likes the students there. He loves his House, and I think would argue that Caltech’s House system is a great reason to attend Caltech as an undergraduate rather than as a graduate. Also, because of the Honor Code, undergraduates have a lot of freedom both academically and socially. Pretty much all tests are take-home. Collaboration on problem sets is encouraged.

There’s a Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon says he doesn’t want to go on campus at night because it’s “not safe because of all the raccoons and undergrad students walking around like they own the place.” From what I hear about House social activities, that seems to be fairly accurate (though perhaps changing a bit).

But, it really depends on the student, and to some extent I would guess that Caltech is more likely to be a good fit for physics and math majors than for other majors. My son enjoys mathy classes with proofs almost as much as he loves programming. Many of of his classes require both. But, I wouldn’t recommend Caltech for a student who ends up in the bottom 25% of the class, though it’s hard to know that in advance.

The workload is high–much higher than elsewhere it seems. And, his grades aren’t perfect or as high as they might be elsewhere. But, he previously took sophomore/junior level CS theory courses at a UC, and while they covered new material that interested him, they weren’t challenging enough.

@Publisher wrote “My understanding is that Caltech undergraduates get the equivalent of a graduate education.” That is somewhat true. The quantum mechanics sequence that junior physics undergraduates take is also required of Physics PhD students (unless they can prove they took equivalent courses elsewhere). After sophomore year, most of the classes undergrads take are also taken by some graduate students.

Oh, and since @Publisher’s thread is about spending resources per student, yes there do seem to be plenty of resources at Caltech.

He and some undergrad friends qualified a team for the finals of a national cybersecurity CTF. Since Caltech doesn’t really have a professor in that field, when Caltech heard about the team’s success, they were offered significant funds (5 digits) and space to start something that was a cross between a lab and a club. I don’t know if the rest took them up on that. (While my son is good at cryptography, it’s not the field he wants to pursue.)

To be clear: This thread is about the Top 100 colleges & universities out of one (1,000) thousand colleges & universities rated and ranked by the Wall Street Journal & by the Times Higher Education. If your school is listed among the top 100, then you are among the top ten (10%) percent of all colleges & universities in the ranking.

This is erroneous. Caltech is not for everyone, whether as a graduate or undergraduate. It’s probably the most rigorous and demanding school academically in this country. It has less than 1000 undergraduates in total (or less than 250 each new class). It’s not a good fit for most students as they won’t be as academically prepared. That’s also why Caltech uses somewhat different admission criteria (or at least weighs the criteria differently) than its peers. But despite its best efforts, some of its students will be in the bottom quartile by definition and will struggle, as @Ynotgo pointed out. However, that’s not unique to Caltech. Students in the bottom quartile in any school will struggle. And it’s never fun to be in the bottom quartile.

My point really is that Caltech is an ideal fit for a very unique type of person. Rankings don’t in any way parse that out. I pick on Caltech, but it is really just an example of how rankings miss the point. If a student or parent focusses on just the “i want to go to the best” they will miss the fact that the school in question is really the best for a very very small number of personalities. That is really my point, that rankings are specious because they use methodologies that probably aren’t germane to most who are trying to use them. We are though getting far afield from the original point. For that, my apologies.