LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Move over, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton: a small Southern California liberal arts college is now the second-best in the nation, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Forbes Magazine ranked Pomona College in Claremont ahead of the more prestigious Ivy League campuses in its “America’s Top Colleges” list for 2013, with Stanford University claiming the top spot overall.

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The rankings of 650 colleges and universities conducted by Forbes and Washington, D.C.-based Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) focused heavily on students’ return-on-investment rather than traditional admissions criteria, using a dozen factors including post-graduate success and student debt.

Pomona College President David Oxtoby told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO he’s thrilled to see the school with just over 1,500 undergraduate students land on the national radar.

“We’re delighted, of course…a little surprised,” said Oxtoby. “I think this is an extraordinary education here, and it’s nice to see that other people are recognizing it.”

As the founding member of the seven-campus Claremont Colleges system, Pomona College boasts some famous alumni that include Roy E. Disney, former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, and singer Kris Kristofferson, according to Forbes.

But for Oxtoby, perhaps Pomona’s greatest strength is its relatively small student body.

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“Being small, we have very close relationships between faculty and students,” Oxtoby said. “We have students involved in research from day one, we have small discussion-based classes, we have out-of-classroom opportunities.”

It’s that unique academic environment, Oxtoby added, that separates Pomona from its local bigger-name rivals, including Caltech (ranked no. 18), UCLA (no. 34) and USC (no. 63).

But he acknowledged some skeptics may be wary about a ranking that puts Pomona above perennially elite schools like Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“There’s a certain bias, I would say, to the East Coast, so there’s some surprise that finally the rest of the country is being discovered,” Oxtoby said. “I tell students, ‘Come to Pomona for your undergraduate work,’ go on to one of those great Ivy League schools…for your graduate or professional school.

“But this is the place to start,” he added.

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Click here to see the full Forbes “America’s Top Colleges” list.