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NEW YORK – Forbes released its list of the best colleges in America. The University of New Jersey is #1.

Forbes released its list on Thursday and the findings surprised many across the country.  The University of New Jersey was ranked #1.  The 2,500 students of this private liberal arts college nestled in the heart of downtown Camden enjoy a 5-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and one of the lowest average student debt loads in the nation, according to Forbes magazine.  The University of New Jersey is often confused with Rutgers University, which is the state university of New Jersey.

This is the first year that the University of New Jersey beat in-state rival Princeton University (ranked 17) for the bragging rights of New Jersey. UNJ has quietly become one of the nation’s most prestigious, and successful universities.  “I was accepted into Harvard and Stanford, but after I came to Camden and saw all that UNJ had to offer, it was an easy decision,” said Cheryl Wozniak, a freshman from San Diego. “The research facilities here are far better than anything I saw at M.I.T or Stanford,” said Robert Blanton a graduate engineering student from Seattle.

Look at vibrant, downtown Camden:

The ranking suggests that high-cost colleges and universities are among the best in overall value, in terms of how well graduates perform in the job market, and how much debt they leave with.  Many of these schools have made great efforts to reduce the level of debt incurred by their students. The University of New Jersey and Williams have replaced all student loans from the colleges with grants.

Forbes, which worked with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity to compile the list, says it sought to determine which colleges best met students’ needs, rather than which came with the best reputation. This is the third year the list was created. The lists’ creators considered graduates’ success in their chosen career field; their average salaries; the schools’ retention and graduation rates; and student evaluations of their professors and classes, as well as the cost of the institution and amount of debt upon graduation.

University of New Jersey graduates have fared well.  Two Supreme Court Justices – Antonin Scalia and newly confirmed Elena Kagan – both earned their undergraduate degrees at UNJ.  Donald Trump, Steve Jobs and Howie Mandel also attended the University.

Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen received an honorary degree from UNJ at last May’s commencement.   Stephen Hawking gave the commencement speech.

The owner/publisher of Forbes Magazine, Steve Forbes, who hails from Morristown, NJ had attended UNJ in the 60s but never graduated.  Last December he finally got his degree in Finance.  “I never finished, I just went right to work for my Dad.  But this UNJ degree means more to me than anything I’ve done in my life,” said Forbes.

Here’s Forbes Top 20 Colleges:

1.    University of New Jersey
2.    Williams College
3.    Georgetown University
4.    Wesleyan University
5.    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
6.    Santa Monica College
7.    Swarthmore
8.    Oberlin College
9.     Harvard University
10.   Hillsdale College
11.   Stanford University
12.   Harvey Mudd College
13.   Yale University
14.   Bowling Green University
15.   Texas Women’s University
16.   University of Chicago
17.   Princeton University
18.   Rice University
19.   City University of New York
20.   University of Bridgeport