More Than Ivy in U.S. News’ College Rankings

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Breaking a three year tie with Harvard, Princeton ranked first among National Universities in U.S. News and World Report's annual guide “America's Best Colleges”. It is the seventh straight year Princeton had been at least tied for the top ranking. National Universities are only one of the four categories of colleges and universities ranked by the guide.

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College presidents pay close attention to the annual rankings but question how much they actually say about the quality of education at any institution. Betsy Muhlenfeld, president of Sweet Briar College, a liberal arts school in Virginia, told the Lynchburg News and Advance that in many ways the rankings miss the point. “It says nothing about whether the college actually delivers or whether student learning is actually taking place.” But, she added, “We want to make sure that the public perception of the college does not fall.”

The comprehensive guide ranks 248 National Universities with undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs, 217 Liberal Arts Colleges, 557 Masters Universities, which have masters' degree programs and 320 Comprehensive Colleges which grant fewer than 50 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts. The Master's Universities, Liberal Arts colleges, and Comprehensive Colleges are also given rankings by region.

The model for ranking assigns weighted values to peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, selectivity and alumni giving. The most important ranking, given a weight of 25 percent of the total, is the peer assessment, U.S. News says.

Liberty University's founder, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, was pleased that the school was included in the ranking this year for the first time. The university in Lynchburg, Virginia, was ranked 105th in the Southern Region among the Master's universities and is also profiled in U.S. News and World Report. “We have worked for years to build our numbers, to build our finances, to build our athletic programs and to erect our buildings,” he said, according to the News and Advance.

Other schools that were less happy with their ranking included the University of Arkansas, which remained in the third tier of National Universities this year, a category assigned to the lowest ranking quarter of each group, according to a report in the Northwest Arkansas Morning News. The third tier is not numbered. Arkansas has had a low six-year graduation rate, 56 percent, and high acceptance rates, admitting 87 percent of applicants. While faring somewhat better, with a numbered ranking in the first tier, the University of Arizona was tied for 98 with several other schools, hurt this year also by low retention and graduation rates, the Arizona Republic says.

“Overall, private colleges and universities do better on several measures in our ranking model,” U. S. News and Report says, “including student selectivity, graduation and retention rates, and class size.” The top-ranked public university was the University of California at Berkeley.

Graduate programs in business and engineering are ranked separately. The top business schools among the national universities were University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan), University of California – Berkeley (Hass) and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The last two schools are public universities.

All of the top colleges, nationally and regionally, in the Comprehensive Colleges and Master's Universities categories offer accounting programs, although these programs are not ranked. Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Rollins College in Florida, James Madison University in Virginia, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Carroll College in Montana are among the highest ranking schools in these categories. Most national universities also offer accounting programs.

Brigham Young University (BYU) was cited for its undergraduate accounting program, which ranked fifth among the unspecified specialty categories, deseretnews reports. BYU also ranked 12th nationally with students and graduates having the lowest debt burden. “This is something we take very seriously at BYU,” spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. “We even provide a program for our students that that can analyze their financial situation and determine if it is wise for them to go into debt and how much, looking to how much they'll make when they graduate and the cost of the debt when they graduate.”

BYU ranked 19th on a separate national universities list of “Great Schools, Great Prices,” along with Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, Duke and Brown, deseretnews reports. “We are particularly pleased in the company we share on that list,” Jenkins said.

U.S. News sends out an extensive questionnaire each year to all accredited four-year colleges and universities, and schools report their information directly to the publication.


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