UC Berkeley is the first public university to top Forbes best colleges list

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Unseating the lauded Harvard and ranking above neighboring Stanford, UC Berkeley landed the No. 1 spot on Forbes 2021 list of America’s Top Colleges released Wednesday.

“Cal’s 31,000 undergraduates pay just over $14,000 a year ($29,000 more for non-California residents) in tuition and fees for an education that is arguably richer than what they would receive at arch-rival Stanford,” Forbes said in an article hailing the local school founded in 1868.

Forbes retooled the criteria for its annual list this year, using “a methodology counting low-income student outcomes and adds a giant federal database to Forbes’ tally of graduate earnings,” the news organization said in a statement.

This resulted in a completely different list from past years, and a public college claiming the top spot for the first time.

“Public universities deliver the most outstanding education to the broadest range of students at the most affordable price,” Forbes said. “That’s the message of Forbes’ 2021 ranking of top colleges.”

Harvard, which was No. 1 in 2019, dropped to seventh. (Forbes didn’t do the list in 2020 due to COVID.) How did the Golden Bear make the leap? Forbes explained that “21% of incoming freshmen and 43% of Cal’s transfer students receive Pell Grants, money offered by the federal government to help low- and moderate-income families afford college.” At the Massachusetts Ivy League school, only 12% of Harvard undergrads receive Pell Grants, Forbes said.

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