Rankings of universities in the United States
College and university rankings in the United States are rankings of US colleges and universities ordered by various combinations of various contributing factors which vary greatly depending on the organization performing the ranking. Rankings have most often been conducted by magazines, newspapers, websites, or academics. In addition to ranking entire institutions, organizations perform rankings of specific programs, departments, and schools. Various rankings consider combinations of measures of wealth, research excellence and/or influence, selectivity, student options, eventual success, demographics, and other criteria. There is much debate about rankings' interpretation, accuracy, usefulness, and appropriateness. The expanding diversity in rating methodologies and accompanying criticisms of each indicate the lack of consensus in the field.
- 1 Rankings
- 1.1 Acceptance rate (selectivity)
- 1.2 Admissions yield
- 1.3 Business Insider
- 1.4 Council for Aid to Education
- 1.5 The Daily Beast's Guide to the Best Colleges
- 1.6 Faculty Scholarly Productivity rankings
- 1.7 Forbes college rankings
- 1.8 Money's "Best Colleges"
- 1.9 Niche rankings
- 1.10 The Princeton Review Dream Colleges
- 1.11 Revealed Preference Rankings
- 1.12 Social Mobility Index (SMI) rankings
- 1.13 The Top American Research Universities
- 1.14 TrendTopper MediaBuzz College Guide
- 1.15 University Entrepreneur Report
- 1.16 USA Today and CollegeFactual
- 1.17 U.S. News & World Report College and University rankings
- 1.18 United States National Research Council Rankings
- 1.19 Washington Monthly national universities rankings
- 1.20 "What will they Learn?" Report - American Council of Trustees and Alumni
- 1.21 Other
- 2 Criticisms
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Acceptance rate (selectivity)
Selectivity—the percentage of applicants admitted (the lower the percentage, the more selective the college)—reflects both desirability (increasing the number of applicants), and competitiveness (how difficult it is to be accepted), although competitiveness also depends on the strength of fellow applicants instead of the number of people to be accepted alone. For the third year in a row, Stanford has been the most selective undergraduate institution.
|Institution ||Acceptance rate, 2015|
|University of Chicago||7.8%|
|Claremont McKenna College||9.8%|
|University of Pennsylvania||9.9%|
|Johns Hopkins University||12.4%|
Yield—the percentage of admitted students who accept the offer and attend (the higher the better)—reflects the desirability of the school among those admitted to the school. Yield thus may reflect the academic prestige or reputation of the school, and/or other characteristics of the school that admitted students view as positive or attractive attributes. The following table lists some of the universities with the highest yields in the nation, for students entering in the fall of 2015 (yield figures with asterisk are 2014 figures, the latest available).
|University||Admissions yield 2015|
|University of Pennsylvania||66%|
|University of Chicago||60%|
Council for Aid to Education
The Council for Aid to Education publishes a list of the top universities in terms of annual fundraising. Fundraising ability reflects, among other things, alumni and outside donor's views of the quality of a university, as well as the ability of that university to expend funds on top faculty and facilities. Most recent rankings put Stanford at the top, ahead of Harvard, USC, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins.
|University||2013 Fundraising Total in $Millions|
|University of Southern California||674.51|
|Johns Hopkins University||518.57|
The Daily Beast's Guide to the Best Colleges
The Daily Beast's college rankings take into account nine factors, with academics, future earnings, and affordability weighted most heavily. The other criteria include graduation rates, diversity, athletics, nightlife, activities, and campus quality. Data comes from The National Center for Education Statistics, as well as private organizations like PayScale, for salary data, and Niche, for student opinions. The Daily Beast's college rankings report the top 250 scoring schools, with Stanford University at the top, followed by Harvard University, Yale University, MIT, and Columbia University.
|University of Pennsylvania||8|
Faculty Scholarly Productivity rankings
Forbes college rankings
In 2008, Forbes.com began publishing an annual list, prepared by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity of "America's Best Colleges". Student satisfaction (evaluations from RateMyProfessors.com, retention rates and targeted student satisfaction surveys on Facebook) constitutes 75% of the score. Post-graduate success (self-reported salaries of alumni from PayScale, alumni appearing on the CCAP's America’s Leaders List) constitutes 32.5% of the score. Student debt loads constitute 25% of the score. The graduation rate (the proportion of students who complete four-year degrees in four years) constitutes 7.5% of the score. Academic success (the proportion of students receiving nationally competitive awards) constitutes 10% of the score. Public reputation is not considered, which causes some colleges to score lower than in other lists. A three-year moving average is used to smooth out the scoring. The 2015 ranking puts Pomona College at the top, followed by Williams, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Swarthmore.
Money's "Best Colleges"
Money's college rankings take into account 21 factors that it categorizes as measures of educational quality, affordability, and alumni earnings. The rankings considered 1500 four-year colleges and reported the top ranking 736. In 2015, according to Money, the top five colleges are Stanford, Babson, MIT, Princeton, and CalTech.
|Harvey Mudd College||6|
Niche provides rankings and reviews of colleges in the U.S. Their Best Colleges ranking focuses on academics, diversity, affordability, and student satisfaction. Their most recent ranking places Stanford at the top, followed by MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Rice.
|University of Pennsylvania||6|
|Washington University in St. Louis||8|
|University of Southern California||9|
The Princeton Review Dream Colleges
The Princeton Review annually asks students and parents what their dream college is, if cost and ability to get in were not factors. Over 12,000 students and parents responded in 2015. The top dream school for students is Stanford, for the third year in a row. The top dream school for parents is also Stanford, for the fourth year in a row. Stanford won out over Harvard and NYU among students, and led Harvard and Princeton among parents.
|University||Students' Dream College Ranking|
|New York University||3|
|University||Parents' Dream College Ranking|
Revealed Preference Rankings
Avery et al. pioneered the use of choice modelling to rank colleges. Their methodology used a statistical analysis of the decisions of 3,240 students who applied to college in 1999. MyChances.net adopted a similar approach starting in 2009, stating that its method is based on this approach. The study analysed students admitted to multiple colleges. The college they attended became the winner, and the others became the losers. An Elo rating system was used to assign points based on each win or loss, and the colleges were ranked based on their Elo points. A useful consequence of the use of Elo points is that they can be used to estimate the frequency with which students, upon being admitted to two schools, will choose one over the other. Most recent preference ranking by Parchment placed Stanford at the top, followed by MIT, Harvard, and Yale.
Social Mobility Index (SMI) rankings
The SMI rankings are a collaborative publication from CollegeNet and PayScale. The rankings aim to provide a measure of the extent to which colleges provide upward economic mobility to those that attend. The rankings were created in response to the finding in Science magazine which showed that among developed nations, the United States now provides the least economic opportunity and mobility for its citizens. The rankings were also created to combat the rising costs of tuition, much of which is attributed to the efforts of some colleges to increase their own fame and wealth in ways that increase their rank in media periodicals that put an emphasis on such measures. In 2014, according to the SMI, the top five colleges are Montana Tech, Rowan University, Florida A&M, Cal Poly Pomona, and Cal State Northridge.
The Top American Research Universities
The Center for Measuring University Performance has ranked American research universities in the Top American Research Universities since 2000. The methodology is based on data such as research publications, citations, recognitions and funding, as well as undergraduate quality such as SAT scores. The information used can be found in publicly accessible materials, reducing possibilities for manipulation. The methodology is generally consistent from year to year and changes are explained in the publication along with references from other studies.
TrendTopper MediaBuzz College Guide
TrendTopper MediaBuzz College Guide is an American-college guide based on what it calls "Internet brand equity" based on data collected from the Internet and global media sources. It ranks the Top 300 United States colleges and universities. The guide includes specialty and for profit schools including Art, Business, Design, Music, and Online Education. The TrendTopper MediaBuzz College Rankings are produced twice a year by the Global Language Monitor of Austin, Texas.
Time Magazine described internet brand equity as "a measure of who's talking about you online, based on Internet data, social media, blogs and the top 75,000 print and electronic media outlets.
GLM ranks the schools "according to their online presence -- or internet brand equity ... By focusing on online presence, the Monitor hopes to avoid the biases that characterize other rankings, which commonly rely on the opinions of university officials and college counselors rather than that of the greater public." GLM believes the rankings provide an up-to-date perspective on which schools have the most popular brand. The resulting rankings gauge the relative value of the various institutions and how they change over time.
University Entrepreneur Report
The University Entrepreneur Report lists the top six American universities in terms of venture capital investments in businesses started by a university's alumni. According to a CB Insights study of deals from 2007-2011, Stanford alumni secured 203 venture capital or angel investments, totaling $4.1 billion, more than any other university studied. Harvard was second with 112 deals, totaling $3.8 billion. Excluding the Facebook deal, Harvard alumni secured $1.8 billion, less than half of Stanford’s total. UC Berkeley, NYU, UPenn and MIT each brought in over $1.0 billion.
|University||Total Value of Venture Capital or Angel Investments from 2007 - 2011 in $Billions||Number of Venture Capital or Angel Investment Deals from 2007 - 2011|
|University of California at Berkeley||1.3||90|
|New York University||1.2||48|
|University of Pennsylvania||1.2||46|
USA Today and CollegeFactual
In 2014, USA Today newspaper started to co-market a ranking of schools with the firm CollegeFactual under the USA Today College brand. 
U.S. News & World Report College and University rankings
The magazine U.S. News & World Report's rankings are based upon information they collect from educational institutions via an annual survey and school websites. It also considers opinion surveys of university faculty and administrators outside the school. Their college rankings were first published in 1983 and have been published in all years thereafter, except 1984.
The US News listings have gained such influence that some Universities have made it a specific goal to reach a particular level in the US News rankings. Belmont University president Bob Fisher stated in 2010, "Rising to the Top 5 in U.S. News represents a key element of Belmont’s Vision 2015 plan." Clemson University made it a public goal to rise to the Top 20 in the US News rankings, and made specific changes, including reducing class size and altering the presentation of teacher salaries, so as to perform better in the statistical analysis by US News. At least one university, Arizona State, has actually tied the university president's pay to an increase in the school's placement in the US News rankings.
U.S. News precise methodology has changed many times, and the data are not all available to the public. The actual presentation of rankings has changed as well. For many years, the magazine divided each category of post-secondary institutions into quartiles, with the schools in the highest quartile ("First Tier") ranked from 1 to about 50. All schools in the lower three quartile were merely identified as being in the "Second Tier", "Third Tier", and "Fourth Tier". However, the system was dramatically changed starting with the 2011 rankings and now all the schools ranked in the top three quartiles (ranked 1 to 194) are "First Tier" Universities, and the bottom quartile—the schools in the bottom 25%—are now labeled "Second Tier".
The following are elements in the US News rankings.
- Peer assessment: a survey of the institution's reputation among presidents, provosts, and admissions deans of other institutions (15%)
- Guidance Counselor assessment: a survey of the institution's reputation among approximately 1,800 high school guidance counselors (7.5%)
- Retention: six-year graduation rate and first-year student retention rate (20%)
- Faculty resources: average class size, faculty salary, faculty degree level, student-faculty ratio, and proportion of full-time faculty (20%)
- Student selectivity: standardized test scores of admitted students, proportion of admitted students in upper percentiles of their high school class, and proportion of applicants accepted (15%)
- Financial resources: per-student spending (10%)
- Graduation rate performance: difference between expected and actual graduation rate (7.5%)
- Alumni giving rate (5%)
U.S. News determined the relative weights of these factors and changed them over time. The National Opinion Research Center reviewed the methodology and stated that the weights "lack any defensible empirical or theoretical basis". The first four of the listed factors account for the great majority of the U.S. News ranking (80%, according to U.S. News's 2005 methodology), and the "reputational measure" (which surveys high-level administrators at similar institutions about their perceived quality ranking of each college and university) is especially important to the final ranking (accounting by itself for 25% of the ranking according to the 2005 methodology).
A New York Times article reported that, given the U.S. News weighting methodology, "it's easy to guess who's going to end up on top: the Big Three, Harvard, Yale and Princeton round out the first three essentially every year. When asked how he knew his system was sound, Mel Elfin, the rankings' founder, often answered that he knew it because those three schools always landed on top. When a new lead statistician, Amy Graham, changed the formula in 1999 to one she considered more statistically valid, the California Institute of Technology jumped to first place. Ms. Graham soon left, and a modified system pushed Princeton back to No. 1 the next year."
A 2010 study by the University of Michigan found that university rankings in the United States significantly affect institutions' applications and admissions. The research analyzed the effects of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, showing a lasting effect on college applications and admissions by students in the top 10% of their class. In addition, they found that rankings influence survey assessments of reputation by college presidents at peer institutions, such that rankings and reputation are becoming much more similar over time.
A 2014 study published in Research in Higher Education removed the mystique of the U.S. News ranking process by producing a ranking model that faithfully recreated U.S. News outcomes and quantified the inherent “noise” in the rankings for all nationally ranked universities. The model developed provided detailed insight into the U.S. News ranking process. It allowed the impact of changes to U.S. News subfactors to be studied when variation between universities and within subfactors was present. Numerous simulations were run using this model to understand the amount of change required for a university to improve its rank or move into the top 20. Results show that for a university ranked in the mid-30s it would take a significant amount of additional resources, directed in a very focused way, to become a top-ranked national university, and that rank changes of up to +/- 4 points should be considered “noise”.
US News and World Report puts the colleges in four separate categories based on whether they offer master's degrees, doctoral degrees, or only bachelor's degrees, and the extent to which these respective degree types are offered. The following are samples of their rankings for 2014. In their Regional Colleges category their top colleges are: US Coast Guard Academy (North), Ashbury University (South), Taylor University (Midwest), and Carroll College (West). In their Regional Universities category their top colleges are: Villanova University (North), Elon (South), Creighton (Midwest), and Trinity University (West).
Their top national universities are:
Their top liberal arts colleges are:
|Claremont McKenna College||9|
|United States Naval Academy||9|
United States National Research Council Rankings
Washington Monthly national universities rankings
The Washington Monthly's "National Universities Rankings", most recently published in 2013, began as a research report in 2005, with rankings appearing in the September 2006 issue. It offers American university and college rankings based upon "contribution to the public good in three broad categories: Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country).
Washington Monthly puts the colleges in four separate categories based on whether they offer master's degrees, doctoral degrees, or only bachelor's degrees, and the extent to which these respective degree types are offered. The following are samples of their rankings for 2014. In their Baccalaureate College category their top five are: Elizabeth City State University, Tuskegee University, Bethel College-North Newton, Wheeling Jesuit University, and Messiah College. In their Liberal Arts Colleges category their top five are: Bryn Mawr, Carleton College, Berea College, Swarthmore College, and Harvey Mudd. In their Master's Universities category their top five are: Creighton, Truman State, Valparaiso, Trinity University, and SUNY Geneseo. In their National Universities category their top five are: UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Berkeley, Texas A&M, and UCLA.
"What will they Learn?" Report - American Council of Trustees and Alumni
In 2009, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) began grading colleges and universities based on the strength of their general education requirements. In ACTA's annual What Will They Learn? report, colleges and universities are assigned a letter grade from "A" to "F" based on how many of seven subjects are required of students. The seven subjects are composition, mathematics, foreign language, science, economics, literature and American government or history. The 2011-2012 edition of What Will They Learn? graded 1,007 institutions. In the 2011-2012 edition, 19 schools received an "A" grade for requiring at least six of the subjects the study evaluated. ACTA's rating system has been endorsed by Mel Elfin, founding editor of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. New York Times higher education blogger Stanley Fish, while agreeing that universities ought to have a strong core curriculum, disagreed with some of the subjects ACTA includes in the core.
Other rankings include the Fiske Guide to Colleges and College Prowler, now called Niche (see above). Many specialized rankings are available in guidebooks, considering individual student interests, fields of study, geographical location, financial aid and affordability. In addition to best overall colleges ranking shown above, Niche also publishes dozens of specialized rankings such as Best Academics, Best Campus Food, Most Conservative Colleges, and Best Technology.
Among the rankings dealing with individual fields of study is the Philosophical Gourmet Report or "Leiter Report", a ranking of philosophy departments. This report has attracted criticism from different viewpoints. Notably, practitioners of continental philosophy, who perceive the Leiter report as unfair to their field, have compiled alternative rankings.
The Gourman Report, last published in 1996, ranked the quality of undergraduate majors and graduate programs.
The Higher Education Rankings, developed and managed by the New York City consulting company IV Research, is a commercial product that provides both general rankings as well as personalized rankings based on a complicated assessment of 6 criteria and 30 indicators.
Global Language Monitor produces a "TrendTopper MediaBuzz" ranking of the Top 300 United States colleges and universities semi-annually. It publishes overall results for both university and college categories. It uses the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s classifications to distinguish between universities and liberal arts colleges. The rankings list 125 universities, 100 colleges, the change in the rankings over time, a "Predictive Quantities Indicator" (PQI) Index number (for relative rankings), rankings by Momentum (yearly and 90-day snapshots), and rankings by State. The most recent ranking appeared on November 1, 2009, covering 2008. The PQI index is produced by Global Language Monitor's proprietary PQI algorithm, which has been criticized by some linguists for its use in a counting of the total number of English words. The Global Language Monitor also sells the TrendTopper MediaBuzz Reputation Management solution for higher education for which "colleges and universities can enhance their standings among peers". The Global Language Monitor states that it "does not influence the Higher Education rankings in any way".
The Princeton Review, annually publishes a book of Best Colleges. In 2011, this was titled The Best 373 Colleges. Phi Beta Kappa has also sought to establish chapters at the best schools, lately numbering 280.
In terms of collegiate sports programs, the annual NACDA Directors' Cup provides a measure of all-around collegiate athletic team achievement. Stanford has won the Division I Directors' cup for the last 20 years in a row.
American college and university ranking systems have drawn criticism from within and outside higher education in Canada and the United States. Institutions that have objected include Reed College, Alma College, Mount Holyoke College, St. John's College, Earlham College, MIT, Stanford University, University of Western Ontario, and Queen's University.
Critics charged that U.S. News intentionally changed its methodology every year so that the rankings change and they can sell more magazines. A San Francisco Chronicle article argues that "almost all of US News factors are redundant and can be boiled down to one characteristic: the size of the college or university's endowment."
Some higher education experts, like Kevin Carey of Education Sector, have argued that U.S. News & World Report's college rankings system is merely a list of criteria that mirrors the superficial characteristics of elite colleges and universities. According to Carey, "[The] U.S. News ranking system is deeply flawed. Instead of focusing on the fundamental issues of how well colleges and universities educate their students and how well they prepare them to be successful after college, the magazine's rankings are almost entirely a function of three factors: fame, wealth, and exclusivity." He suggested more important characteristics are how well students are learning and how likely students are to earn a degree.
On 19 June 2007, during the annual meeting of the Annapolis Group, members discussed a letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the "reputation survey" section of the U.S. News survey (this section comprises 25% of the ranking). As a result, "a majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting said that they did not intend to participate in the U.S. News reputational rankings in the future." However, the decision to fill out the reputational survey was left to each individual college. The statement stated that its members "have agreed to participate in the development of an alternative common format that presents information about their colleges for students and their families to use in the college search process." This database was outlined and developed in conjunction with higher education organizations including theNational Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges.
U.S. News & World Report editor Robert Morse issued a response on 22 June 2007, stating:
"in terms of the peer assessment survey, we at U.S. News firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the "intangibles" of a college that we can't measure through statistical data. Plus, the reputation of a school can help get that all-important first job and plays a key part in which grad school someone will be able to get into. The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges."
In reference to the alternative database discussed by the Annapolis Group, Morse argued:
"It's important to point out that the Annapolis Group's stated goal of presenting college data in a common format has been tried before [...] U.S. News has been supplying this exact college information for many years already. And it appears that NAICU will be doing it with significantly less comparability and functionality.U.S. News first collects all these data (using an agreed-upon set of definitions from the Common Data Set). Then we post the data on our website in easily accessible, comparable tables. In other words, the Annapolis Group and the others in the NAICU initiative actually are following the lead of U.S. News."
Knowing that universities—and, in most cases, the statistics they submit—change little from one year to the next, I can only conclude that what are changing are the formulas the magazine's number massagers employ. And, indeed, there is marked evidence of that this year. In the category "Faculty resources," even though few of us had significant changes in our faculty or student numbers, our class sizes, or our finances, the rankings' producers created a mad scramble in rank order [...data...]. Then there is "Financial resources," where Stanford dropped from #6 to #9, Harvard from #5 to #7. Our resources did not fall; did other institutions' rise so sharply? I infer that, in each case, the formulas were simply changed, with notification to no one, not even your readers, who are left to assume that some schools have suddenly soared, others precipitously plummeted.
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