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Why We Need to Rank the Top Planning Programs has created the first data-based ranking of financial planning programs at U.S. colleges and universities. 

In this issue is a first—not just for our publication, but, I believe, for the industry.

We’ve created the first data-based ranking of financial planning programs at U.S. colleges and universities. 

Thanks to the efforts of our contributor John Kador, assisted by wealth-manager-in-training Katie Tschida, schools were given the opportunity to answer a deep-dive survey of their programs. (View the methodology)


Probably not a surprise to most people who follow this kind of stuff, Texas Tech earned the top spot. My alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, at number two? That did surprise me.

Critics will dismiss this exercise and contend that the industry just needs more programs and students, not a robust ranking. Some will say that, just like U.S. News and World Report’s college list, ranking the programs makes little sense to an actual student who is looking for a program that is right for him or her. A data-based ranking of the schools is not an accurate reflection of the quality of education to be found there. 

All of that is true—to a point. The list can demonstrate how committed a college or university is to the program and the resources the school administration is willing to put behind it. The number of CFP certifications completed by students coming out of the programs is a useful metric to see if these programs are, in fact, producing professional planners by CFP Board standards. And students looking to surround themselves with other like-minded people in a real academic department would be interested in whether a program offers advanced degrees, and not just a concentration track under a more generalized area of study.

Ultimately, I think an objective, honest-to-goodness ranking helps put a more solid foundation under the academic pursuit—and the profession to which it leads. Unlike law or medicine (the two professions advisors like to cite as being akin to their own), there is not yet a large and defined body of knowledge to draw on and pass down. No one needs to take these classes—or get any education at all—to call themselves a financial planner. It’s not even always clear where these programs belong: They don’t all fit comfortably in traditional business schools. The UW-Madison program is located in the School of Human Ecology (sounds odd at first but actually makes a lot of sense). 

But the industry is maturing, and so are the education paths that move students toward it. As financial planning firms grow into true businesses, there is a need for educated planners to fill the job openings. 

Hopefully, by seeing their schools ranked in a list like this, college administrators will better understand the need to support the programs, and others will get a sense of what is being offered. Thanks to all the schools that participated. No matter where you are ranked, you’re raising the bar for the entire profession. We’ll do it again next year.

David Armstrong

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