Alternative U.S. News Rankings: Lots of Surprises

Editor’s note: the list was expanded on February 9, 2015 to include the top 100 national universities and corrected on February 11, 2015 to reflect the actual retention rate at the University of Chicago.

Here are our alternative U.S. News rankings for 2015, based on filtering out statistically some of the distortions in the rankings that result from an over-emphasis on financial factors.  (Please see the discussion of the ranking or Brown University, below in italics, for a strong example.)

For the adjusted list in 2015, we use the magazine’s two most important categories–academic reputation and graduation/retention rates–plus a separate metric for the percentage of classes with fewer than 20 students. The adjusted percentages (rounded) assigned to each category reflect the same weight assigned to the categories by U.S. News.

One purpose of our adjusted lists is to show where there is probably a value-added component versus the rankings; another is to show where some universities might be ranked too high because of their financial resources. In general, the adjusted rankings show that more private than public institutions are overrated significantly because of the magazine’s emphasis on financial metrics.

It is one thing to assign points for the effects of ample funding (smaller class size, better faculty), but the impact of funding is magnified when the magazine also assigns points simply for having a lot of money. What the magazine does is analogous to a well-heeled college applicant with a high SAT not only receiving credit for his high score but also for the money behind it.

As was the case in previous adjusted rankings, the University of California Berkeley, UVA, and the University of Michigan rank significantly higher when the excessive financial factors are eliminated and the focus turns to grad rates and class size, plus academic reputation. But this time around, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State, New Hampshire, Binghamton, Oregon, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech all came out dramatically improved in the adjusted rankings. In general, most public schools stayed about the same or rose markedly. Public universities with adjusted rankings significantly lower than the U.S. News rankings were Iowa, Massachusetts, Purdue, and Stony Brook.

As for private universities, there are few changes among the top seven in the adjusted rankings, although the University of Chicago drops from 4 to 7. The reason: six-year graduation rates that do not match schools such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton, and several other public and private institutions.

The most dramatic drops in the adjusted rankings were Case Western (from 38 to 57); Wake Forest (27 to 38); and the University of Miami (48 to 59). The greatest improvement among private schools was Brown’s rise to number 8 from number 16. It is significant that Brown’s endowment is the lowest in the Ivy League, only about one-tenth that of Harvard and less than half that of Chicago. Yet when the magnifying impact of financial resources is removed and Brown is evaluated only on the outputs used by U.S. News and in our adjusted rankings, the university outperforms many others with much great financial resources. The same phenomenon is evident with most public universities.

We have chosen to emphasize small class size because this feature is especially important to prospective honors students, many of whom are attracted to programs which offer classes that are much smaller than the average class size at the universities hosting the honors programs.

The list below shows the adjusted rankings first, followed by the U.S. News rankings. We have bolded the schools whose adjusted ranking and the U.S. News ranking vary by 6 or more positions.

Adjusted US News 2015
Yale 1 3
Harvard 1 2
Stanford 3 4
Princeton 3 1
Columbia 3 4
MIT 6 7
Chicago 7 4
Johns Hopkins 8 12
Caltech 8 10
Brown 8 16
Duke 8 8
Penn 8 8
Northwestern 13 13
UC Berkeley 13 20
Cornell 15 15
Dartmouth 15 11
Virginia 17 23
Vanderbilt 17 16
Washington University 19 14
Michigan 20 29
Notre Dame 20 16
Rice 20 19
Georgetown 20 21
Carnegie Mellon 20 25
Emory 25 21
UCLA 25 23
USC 27 25
Tufts 27 27
North Carolina 27 30
Boston College 30 31
William and Mary 30 33
UW Madison 32 47
Brandeis 32 35
Illinois 34 42
UC Davis 34 38
Georgia Tech 34 36
NYU 34 32
Florida 38 48
UC San Diego 38 37
Rochester 38 33
UC Irvine 38 42
Wake Forest 38 27
Boston University 43 42
Washington 43 48
UC Santa Barbara 43 40
Maryland 46 62
Northeastern 46 42
Rennselear 46 42
Penn State 46 48
George Washington 46 54
Lehigh 51 40
UT Austin 51 53
Ohio State 51 54
Yeshiva 54 48
Syracuse 54 58
Georgia 54 62
Pepperdine 57 54
Case Western 57 38
Worcester Poly 59 68
University of Miami 59 48
Connecticut 59 58
Virginia Tech 59 71
Pitt 59 62
Texas A&M 59 68
Fordham 59 58
Tulane 59 54
Clemson 59 62
Rutgers 68 70
Indiana 68 76
Minnesota 68 71
SMU 71 58
American 71 71
Michigan State 71 85
SUNY Env Science 71 76
Clark 71 76
Binghamton 76 88
Miami Ohio 76 76
Delaware 76 76
Purdue 76 62
Brigham Young 80 62
Iowa 80 71
Baylor 80 71
Marquette 80 76
UC Santa Cruz 80 85
Florida St 85 95
New Hampshire 85 99
Colorado 85 88
Massachusetts 85 76
Denver 85 88
Vermont 85 85
NC State 91 95
TCU 92 76
Missouri 92 99
University of San Diego 92 95
Drexel 92 95
Colorado School of Mines 92 88
University at Buffalo 97 103
St. Louis University 97 99
Stony Brook 97 88
Dayton 97 103
Oregon 97 106

 

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