According to Yahoo News, the private university with the happiest freshmen in the country is Princeton, followed by those at Harvey Mudd and Yale; Johns Hopkins sneaks onto the top 25 list at number 24. This list looks quite a bit different from last year’s compilation of the U.S.’s happiest schools according to the Princeton Review (in which neither Hopkins, Princeton, Harvey Mudd nor Yale makes the cut).
That’s because Yahoo News is equating freshman retention rates — the share of students who return for their sophomore year — with happiness. I’m not so sure that makes sense. While unhappiness may be one reason students drop out, transfer, or take a leave of absence after their first year of college, there are plenty of other reasons they might not return campus: health issues, financial difficulties, educational problems.
And, as Yahoo News points out, its “happy freshmen” list is made up of “elite institutions with that typically attract more affluent students” — in other words places where it’s a much bigger deal, both financially and socially, to not return after freshman year. (It’s also interesting that the two schools with the highest freshman retention rate also snagged the top two spots of the salary potential ranking I wrote about yesterday! Clearly, Princeton and Harvey Mudd are doing something right…)
In contrast, the Princeton Review’s “happy schools” are a more diverse group, including religious schools, small liberal arts colleges, and large state universities. The one thing many of them have in common? They’re in California.