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|
|William and Mary||30||33|
|UC San Diego||38||37|
|UC Santa Barbara||43||40|
|University of Miami||59||48|
|SUNY Env Science||71||76|
|UC Santa Cruz||80||85|
|University of San Diego||92||95|
|Colorado School of Mines||92||88|
|University at Buffalo||97||103|
|St. Louis University||97||99|