The U.S. News & World Report National Rankings were released earlier this month, and according to this publication’s methodology, there were only two states — California and Virginia — with public institutions that made their way into the top 25 rankings nationally, including the University of California, Berkeley which was ranked #20; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Virginia. These last two schools were each tied at #23, along with two other private universities: The University of Southern California and Wake Forest University.
In order to be eligible for ranking, each of the schools in the National Universities category must offer a full range of undergraduate majors, and on a graduate level of study they must offer both master’s and Ph.D. programs, and be “committed to producing groundbreaking research.”
Ranked in the top ten Best Colleges nationally were Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, and the California Institute of Technology.
How the Methodology Works
The U.S. News ranking system rests on two pillars. The formula uses quantitative measures that education experts have proposed as reliable indicators of academic quality, and it’s based on our researched view of what matters in education.
First, schools are categorized by their mission, which is derived from the breakdown of types of higher education institutions as refined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2010. The Carnegie classification has been the basis of the Best Colleges ranking category system since our first rankings were published in 1983, given that it is used extensively as the accepted standard by higher education researchers.
The U.S. Department of Education and many higher education associations use the system to organize their data and to determine colleges’ eligibility for grant money, for example. The category names we use are our own – National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges – but their definitions rely on the Carnegie principles.
There were some changes to the ranking methodology for this year’s report, mainly by accentuating the weight of “output measures” – such as the performance standards for the rate of graduation and retention rate – and the reduction of the weight of “input measures,” so that slightly more weight was given to SAT and ACT scores, which increased from 50 percent to 65 percent; and the weight of class standing in high school, was minimized from 40 percent to 25 percent. This particular data point was gleaned from research that has indicated that “the proportion of high school graduates with class rank on their transcripts is falling,” and as a result, that measure is “less representative of each college’s freshman class than it was five or 10 years ago.”
There are 201 National Rankings in the 2014 report. Those schools that are listed as NRP – or as Unranked – are listed separately by category either because they have indicated that for first-time, first-year admissions decisions those institutions do not use either the SAT or the ACT test scores, or there were insufficient respondents to the ratings for the peer assessment survey. Others may not have an enrollment greater than 200 students; or they may have “a large proportion of nontraditional students and no first-year students – as is the situation at so-called upper-division schools.”
“As a result of these eligibility standards, many of the for-profit institutions have been grouped with the Unranked schools; their bachelor’s degree candidates are largely nontraditional students in degree completion programs, for example, or they don’t use SAT or ACT test scores in admissions decisions.
We also did not rank a few highly specialized schools in arts, business and engineering.”