Average U.S. News Rankings for 129 Universities: 2011-2018

Updated on September 12, 2017, to include new U.S. News rankings for 2018.  Listed below are the yearly rankings and overall average rankings of 129 national universities that were included in the first tier of the U.S. News Best Colleges from 2011 through 2018. There are 64 public and 65 private universities. The list below not only shows the average rankings over this eight-year period but also lists the number of places lost or gained by each university.

As a group, the private universities have had an average increase in the rankings of .15 places, while the public universities have had an average decline of 1.7, demonstrating what we have observed in the past–public universities are, in general, not on an upward trajectory in the rankings. Yet this is something of an improvement over the last set we published, covering the years 2010–2017. That set show that public universities lost an average five placed during that eight-year period while private colleges gain two places.

A big reason for the negative impact on public university rankings is surely the severe budget cuts by legislatures across the country in the wake of the Great Recession. As economic times improve, one would hope that much more of the state funding will be restored. But, realistically, that is not likely to happen, and increasing reliance on private funds by public colleges appears to be the only way not to fall behind–or, at least, not to fall farther behind.

The rate of decline in public university rankings appears to be improving, except that in absolute terms the average rankings remain significantly lower than in 2009.

While we appreciate the massive amount of data that the U.S. News rankings provide on class sizes, grad rates, retention rates, and even selectivity, on the whole the rankings fail to evaluate efficiency (the number of students who receive a high-quality education at a relatively low cost) and should not use selectivity and wealth as metrics.

One reason for the sudden rise in a school’s ranking is increased “gaming” of the rankings. Some institutions, public and private, but mostly the latter, have geared their marketing and merit aid to increase the number of applicants and lower their acceptance rates accordingly. This makes them more “selective” and helps to improve their rankings.

Northeastern University, for example, has risen 40 places in the rankings since 2010, and 56 places since 2008.  How likely is it that in such a short period of time Northeastern has actually improved so dramatically, from 96th to 40th? (The ranking did, however, drop one place (39 to 40) from 2017 to 2018.

We will try to explore further “gaming” scenarios, but for 2018 the most notable changes, up or down, follow. Note: We are not asserting that the gains below are due to “gaming,” although, in part, they may be. Although the overall average for public universities has fallen, several public institutions have had sizable gains. It should be noted, however, that many with such gains were ranked extremely low in 2011, thus allowing more room for improvement.

Up since 2011: NC State +30; Northeastern +29; UMass Amherst +28; Arizona State +24; Florida State +23; SUNY Buffalo +23; TCU +21; Boston University +19; Stevens Inst of Tech +17; Brigham Young +14; Loyola Chicago +14; Oklahoma +14; UConn +13; Tulane +11; Florida +11.  We do know that the state of Florida has made a strong effort to raise the profile of their leading universities.

Down since 2011: Yeshia -44 (how is this possible?); Alabama -31; UC Riverside -30; Missouri -26; Dayton -25; Iowa State -21; Nebraska -20; Auburn -18; Marquette -15; Indiana -15; Kansas -11; Pacific -11; UT Austin -11. (UT Austin struggles with grad rates; one reason might be rule that the top 7%-8% of students, by class rank, make up 75% of total admits, even with significantly lower test scores than other applicants from highly competitive high schools that do not make the top 7%-8%.)

The U.S. News rankings not only over-emphasize the metrics related to a university’s financial resources but also, especially in the last five years or so, reward selectivity when, in fact, the results of the selectivity are already considered. Why should Stanford be rewarded for having an acceptance rate o f 5% and be rewarded for having high graduation and retention rates, both of which are largely the result of selectivity. Using test scores as a factor in predicting what grad rates should be is fine, as is rewarding or penalizing schools for exceeding or not meeting such predictions. But the high scores themselves and the low acceptance percentages merely duplicate what is more properly measured by outcomes.

We will have more to say on these issues in the future. But for now, here are the historical rankings, the average of each school across eight years, and the increase or decline of each school from 2011 through 2018. The universities are listed in order of their average ranking across the years.

Here is the list.

US News 2011–2018 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 Avg Rank Chg 2011
to 2018
Princeton 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.125 1
Harvard 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 1.625 -1
Yale 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 0
Columbia 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 4.25 -1
Chicago 9 5 4 5 4 4 3 3 4.625 6
Stanford 5 5 6 5 4 4 5 5 4.875 0
MIT 7 5 6 7 7 7 7 5 6.375 2
Penn 5 5 8 7 8 9 8 8 7.25 -3
Duke 9 10 8 7 8 8 8 9 8.375 0
Caltech 7 5 10 10 10 10 12 10 9.25 -3
Dartmouth 9 11 10 10 11 12 11 11 10.625 -2
Johns Hopkins 13 13 13 12 12 10 10 11 11.75 2
Northwestern 12 12 12 12 13 12 12 11 12 1
Brown 15 15 15 14 16 14 14 14 14.625 1
Cornell 15 15 15 16 15 15 15 14 15 1
Washington Univ 13 14 14 14 14 15 19 18 15.125 -5
Vanderbilt 17 17 17 17 16 15 15 14 16 3
Rice 17 17 17 18 19 18 15 14 16.875 3
Notre Dame 19 19 17 18 16 18 15 18 17.5 1
Emory 20 20 20 20 21 21 20 21 20.375 -1
UC Berkeley 22 21 21 20 20 20 20 21 20.625 1
Georgetown 21 22 21 20 21 21 20 20 20.75 1
USC 23 23 24 23 25 23 23 21 23.125 2
UCLA 25 25 24 23 23 23 24 21 23.5 4
Carnegie Mellon 23 23 23 23 25 23 24 25 23.625 -2
Virginia 25 25 24 23 23 26 24 25 24.375 0
Wake Forest 25 25 27 23 27 27 27 27 26 -2
Tufts 28 29 28 28 27 27 27 29 27.875 -1
Michigan 29 28 29 28 29 29 27 28 28.375 1
North Carolina 30 29 30 30 30 30 30 30 29.875 0
Boston College 31 31 31 31 31 30 31 32 31 -1
NYU 33 33 32 32 32 32 36 30 32.5 3
William & Mary 31 33 33 32 33 34 32 32 32.5 -1
Brandeis 34 31 33 32 35 34 34 34 33.375 0
Rochester 37 35 33 32 33 33 32 34 33.625 3
Georgia Tech 35 36 36 36 36 36 34 34 35.375 1
Case Western 41 38 37 37 38 37 37 37 37.75 4
UC San Diego 35 37 38 39 37 39 44 42 38.875 -7
UC Santa Barbara 39 42 41 41 40 37 37 37 39.25 2
UC Davis 39 38 38 39 38 41 44 46 40.375 -7
Lehigh 37 38 38 41 40 47 44 46 41.375 -9
RPI 41 50 41 41 42 41 39 42 42.125 -1
UC Irvine 41 45 44 49 42 39 39 42 42.625 -1
UW Madison 45 42 41 41 47 41 44 46 43.375 -1
Illinois 47 45 46 41 42 41 44 52 44.75 -5
Boston Univ 56 53 51 41 42 41 39 37 45 19
U of Miami 47 38 44 47 48 51 44 46 45.625 1
Penn State 47 45 46 37 48 47 50 52 46.5 -5
Tulane 51 50 51 52 54 41 39 40 47.25 11
Washington 41 42 46 52 48 52 54 56 48.875 -15
Florida 53 58 54 49 48 47 50 42 50.125 11
Northeastern 69 62 56 49 42 47 39 40 50.5 29
UT Austin 45 45 46 52 53 52 56 56 50.625 -11
Pepperdine 53 55 54 57 54 52 50 46 52.625 7
George Washington 51 50 51 52 54 57 56 56 53.375 -5
Ohio St 56 55 56 52 54 52 54 54 54.125 2
Yeshiva 50 45 46 47 48 52 66 94 56 -44
Fordham 56 53 58 57 58 66 60 61 58.625 -5
Maryland 56 55 58 62 62 57 60 61 58.875 -5
SMU 56 62 58 60 58 61 56 61 59 -5
Georgia 56 62 63 60 62 61 56 54 59.25 2
Syracuse 55 62 58 62 58 61 60 61 59.625 -6
Connecticut 69 58 63 57 58 57 60 56 59.75 13
Purdue 56 62 65 68 62 61 60 56 61.25 0
WPI 64 62 65 62 68 57 60 61 62.375 3
Pitt 64 58 58 62 62 66 68 68 63.25 -4
Clemson 64 68 68 62 62 61 66 67 64.75 -3
Brigham Young 75 71 68 62 62 66 68 61 66.625 14
Texas A&M 63 58 65 69 68 70 74 69 67 -6
Minnesota 64 68 68 69 71 69 71 69 68.625 -5
Rutgers 64 68 68 69 70 72 70 69 68.75 -5
Virginia Tech 69 71 72 69 71 70 74 69 70.625 0
Baylor 79 75 77 75 71 72 71 75 74.375 4
American 79 82 77 75 71 72 71 69 74.5 10
Iowa 72 71 72 73 71 82 82 78 75.125 -6
Delaware 75 75 75 75 76 75 79 81 76.375 -6
Michigan St 79 71 72 73 85 75 82 81 77.25 -2
Stevens Inst Tech 86 88 75 82 76 75 71 69 77.75 17
Col School of Mines 72 75 77 91 88 75 82 75 79.375 -3
Indiana 75 75 83 75 76 75 86 90 79.375 -15
UC Santa Cruz 72 75 77 86 85 82 79 81 79.625 -9
Clark 86 94 83 75 76 75 74 81 80.5 5
Miami Oh 79 90 89 75 76 82 79 78 81 1
Marquette 75 82 83 75 76 86 86 90 81.625 -15
UMass Amherst 99 94 97 91 76 75 74 75 85.125 24
Tulsa 93 75 83 86 88 86 86 87 85.5 6
TCU 99 97 92 82 76 82 82 78 86 21
Denver 86 82 83 91 88 86 86 87 86.125 -1
Binghamton 86 88 89 97 88 89 86 87 88.75 -1
Vermont 94 82 92 82 85 89 92 97 89.125 -3
Alabama 79 75 77 86 88 96 103 110 89.25 -31
Colorado 86 94 97 86 88 89 92 90 90.25 -4
San Diego 94 97 92 91 95 89 86 90 91.75 4
Drexel 86 88 83 97 95 99 96 94 92.25 -8
St. Louis 86 88 92 101 99 96 96 94 94 -8
Auburn 85 82 89 91 103 102 99 103 94.25 -18
Stony Brook 99 111 92 82 88 89 96 97 94.25 2
Florida St 104 101 97 91 95 96 92 81 94.625 23
NC State 111 101 106 101 95 89 92 81 97 30
Missouri 94 90 97 97 99 103 111 120 101.375 -26
New Hampshire 104 101 106 97 99 103 107 103 102.5 1
Tennessee 104 101 101 101 106 103 103 103 102.75 1
Iowa St 94 94 101 101 106 108 111 115 103.75 -21
Oklahoma 111 101 101 101 106 108 111 97 104.5 14
Nebraska 104 101 101 101 99 103 111 124 105.5 -20
Univ at Buffalo 120 111 106 109 103 99 99 97 105.5 23
Loyola Chicago 117 119 106 101 106 99 99 103 106.25 14
Oregon 111 101 115 109 106 103 103 103 106.375 8
Pacific 99 101 106 112 116 108 111 110 107.875 -11
Kansas 104 101 106 101 106 115 118 115 108.25 -11
Dayton 99 101 115 112 103 108 111 124 109.125 -25
Illinois Tech 111 111 113 109 116 108 103 103 109.25 8
South Carolina 111 111 115 112 113 108 107 103 110 8
UC Riverside 94 97 101 112 113 121 118 124 110 -30
Michigan Tech 117 111 120 117 116 123 118 124 118.25 -7
Catholic 120 119 120 121 116 123 124 120 120.375 0
Clarkson 124 119 115 121 121 115 129 124 121 0
Arizona 120 124 120 119 121 121 124 124 121.625 -4
Howard 104 111 120 142 145 135 124 110 123.875 -6
Colorado St 124 128 134 121 121 127 129 124 126 0
Kentucky 129 124 125 119 129 129 133 133 127.625 -4
Arizona St 143 132 139 142 129 129 129 115 132.25 28
Arkansas 132 132 134 128 135 129 135 133 132.25 -1
AVERAGES 61.60976 -0.54472











Update No. 3: The 2016 Edition Is Coming Soon, with Important Changes

By John Willingham, Editor

The 2016 edition will have a new name– Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of 60 Public University Honors Programs. It is in the final proofing stage now. The goal is to publish in late September. Each edition includes a somewhat different group of honors colleges and programs, so there will be changes, even among the 40 or so programs that are reviewed in each edition.

As I have noted in previous updates, the book will take an almost microscopic view of 50 of these programs and also provide more general summary reviews of 10 additional programs. I can say now that there will be a few more programs that will receive the highest overall rating of five “mortarboards” than there were in 2014. (The final list of programs we are rating and reviewing for 2016 is below.)

The rating system makes it possible for any honors college or program, whether a part of a public “elite” or not, to earn the highest rating. Similarly, the ratings allow all types of honors programs to earn the highest rating. Those receiving five mortarboards will include core-type programs with fewer than 1,000 students and large honors programs with thousands of students. And absent any intentional preference for geographical diversity, the list does in fact include programs from north, south, east, and west.

By microscopic, I mean that the rating categories have increased from 9 to 14, and so has the depth of statistical analysis. The categories are, first, the overall honors rating; curriculum requirements; the number of honors classes offered; the number of honors classes in “key” disciplines; the extent of honors participation by all members in good standing; honors-only class sizes; overall class size averages, including mixed and contract sections; honors grad rates, adjusted for admissions test scores; ratio of students to honors staff; type of priority registration; honors residence halls, amenities; honors residence halls, availability; and the record of achieving prestigious scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, etc.).

Sometimes readers (and critics) ask: Why so few programs? Doesn’t U.S. News report on hundreds of colleges?

The answer is: Honors colleges and programs are complicated. Each one of the 50 rated reviews in the new edition with by 2,500-3,000 words in length, or 7-8 pages. That’s almost 400 pages, not including introductory sections. The rest of the answer is: We are not U.S. News. With myself, one assistant editor, a contract statistician, and an outsourced production firm, our ability to add programs is very limited.

The 2016 profiles are full of numbers, ratios, and averages, more than in 2014 certainly–and too many, I believe, for readers who would prefer more narrative summary and description. So, yes, it is a wonkish book, even to a greater extent than this website tends to be. But then, they are honors programs after all.

Full ratings:

Alabama Honors
Arizona Honors
Arizona State Honors
Arkansas Honors
Auburn Honors
Central Florida Honors
Clemson Honors
Colorado State Honors
Connecticut Honors
CUNY Macaulay Honors
Delaware Honors
Georgia Honors
Georgia State Honors
Houston Honors
Idaho Honors
Illinois Honors
Indiana Honors
Iowa Honors
Kansas Honors
Kentucky Honors
LSU Honors
Maryland Honors
Massachusetts Honors
Minnesota Honors
Mississippi Honors
Missouri Honors
Montana Honors
New Jersey Inst of Tech
New Mexico Honors
North Carolina Honors
Oklahoma Honors
Oklahoma State Honors
Oregon Honors
Oregon State Honors
Penn State Honors
Purdue Honors
South Carolina Honors
South Dakota Honors
Temple Honors
Tennessee Honors
Texas A&M Honors
Texas Tech Honors
UC Irvine Honors
University of Utah Honors
UT Austin Honors
Vermont Honors
Virginia Commonwealth Honors
Virginia Tech Honors
Washington Honors
Washington State Honors

Summary Reviews:

Cincinnati Honors
Florida State Honors
Michigan Honors
New Hampshire Honors
Ohio Univ Honors
Pitt Honors
Rutgers Honors
Virginia Honors
Western Michigan Honors
Wisconsin Honors


University of Texas Chancellor Opposes Top 10 Percent Admission Rule

As a former Navy Seal and admiral in command of all U.S. Special Operations forces, UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven spent three decades serving and leading the most elite military forces in the world. He has made it clear that he now wants the state flagship to join the best of the best among the nation’s public universities.

But after seeing the system flagship turn away thousands of the state’s elite students because they did not make the top 10 percent (actually 7 percent at UT Austin this year) in the graduating classes of the state’s most competitive high schools, the chancellor sees the automatic admission rule as a major obstacle to keeping the brightest students in Texas–and at UT Austin.

“Candidly, right now what is holding us back is the 10 percent rule,” McRaven told state higher ed leaders recently.

The motives of the Top 10 proponents are certainly worthy–to increase the enrollment of high-achieving minority students at UT Austin. But what makes the rule (sort of) work is that it is predicated on the fact that many of the state’s high schools remain almost entirely segregated. Sometimes this is because an entire region is heavily Latino (the Rio Grande Valley); but elsewhere the segregation in urban centers is based on race and income.

Many of these high schools are among the least competitive in the state. Graduating in the top 7 percent of a high school that offers no AP or honors sections and that has low mean test scores is far different from reaching the top 7 percent of a graduating class of 800 students that has 70 National Merit Scholars.

What can happen to suburban students at very competitive schools is that an unweighted high school GPA of 3.9 (high school rank top 11 percent) and an SAT score of 1440 might not make the cut at UT Austin. Three-fourths of the school’s admits are from the top 7 percent pool; the other 25 percent of admits face a pool that is as competitive as many of the nation’s most selective private colleges.

And, McRaven would say, too many of these students are going out of state, where it costs them more and where they might remain rather than return to Texas. Moreover, the chancellor believes the rule is part of the reason that UT Austin, despite having a stellar faculty, is not rated as highly as it should be among the nation’s public universities.

“Candidly, I think we need to take a hard look at some of the ways that we address higher education, particularly at our flagship program. Your flagship, your number one university in the state of Texas is ranked 52nd on the U.S. News & World Report. To me that’s unacceptable. A lot of things drive that. The 10 percent rule drives that,” he told higher ed leaders.

While he did not specify exactly how the rule contributes to lower rankings, the graduation rate metric used by U.S. News might be lower for UT Austin in part because of the relatively lower standards in many poor and mostly segregated high schools. (It is possible that the chancellor also sees the large size of UT Austin as another issue.)

If the chancellor can find a way to maintain or improve minority enrollment and do away with the Top 10 rule, he might prevail. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not scrap the university’s current holistic admissions policy for students outside the top 7 percent, he might have a better chance; otherwise, his task will be as difficult as many he faced as a military leader.

“[The Top 10 Rule] is a very very sensitive topic,” State Rep. Robert Alonzo told McRaven. “It is a topic that we have discussed at length from all different aspects, and I would hope that we have put it to rest for a while.”

McRaven was undeterred. “I am a new chancellor, so I am going to take that opportunity to re-open that look again,” he said. “Because my charge is to make us the very best, and I think there are some obstacles to doing that.”

Alonzo replied: “Well, I accept the challenge, sir.”

Stay tuned, for this could be a big battle indeed.

Poets & Quants Composite MBA Rankings 2015 List 24 Public Programs in Top 50

The annual composite MBA rankings compiled by John A. Byrne at Poets & Quants combines rankings from the “five most influential rankings and weighs each of them by the soundness of their methodologies” in order to yield “a more credible list of the best MBA programs.”

We like Poets & Quants and Byrne’s rankings and try to write about them each year. The rankings from which he combines the comprehensive list are those from U.S. News, Forbes, Bloomberg, the Financial Times, and the Economist.

Here are the public MBA programs listed in the top 50 for 2015, and their composite rank:

8–UC Berkeley Haas

12–Virginia Darden

13–Michigan Ross

14–UCLA Anderson

17–North Carolina Kenan-Flagler

18–UT Austin McCombs

21–Indiana Kelley

22–Washington Foster

25–Michigan State Broad

29–Minnesota Carlson

31–Ohio State Fisher


33–Penn State Smeal

34–Georgia Tech

35–Maryland Smith

36–Arizona State Carey

37–Iowa Tippie

40–Pitt Katz

41–Texas A&M Mays

44–Purdue Krannert


46–Florida Hough

47–UC Irvine Merage

48–Georgia Terry

50–Temple Ford


Do Elite Colleges Really Offer Better Courses? Probably Yes, in Some Ways

Is it actually worth it, in terms of quality classroom learning, to land a place at an elite college or university? This is a question that many families with highly-talented students ask themselves. If their answer is yes, the result is likely to be a concerted, frenzied effort to mold the students in a way that gives them at least a modest chance of admission to such schools. (Of course, for better or worse, the question is often framed as “Is it worth it, in terms of career success, to land a place…”).

Regarding the differences in the quality of classes among all levels of institutions, new research provides some insights. The researchers lean toward minimizing the relationship between academic prestige and quality of instruction–but it appears that some of their own research suggests just the opposite.

In an article titled Are Elite College Courses Better?, Doug Lederman, editor and co-founder of Inside Higher Ed, provides an excellent, mostly neutral summary of the recent research that suggests course quality in a relatively broad range of institutions does not vary as much as the prestige of a given school might suggest.

“Researchers at Teachers College of Columbia University and at Yeshiva University… believe they are developing a legitimate way to compare the educational quality of courses across institutions,” Lederman writes, “and their initial analysis, they say, ‘raises questions about the value of higher-prestige institutions in terms of their teaching quality.'”

The researchers suggest that the drive to enhance prestige based on rankings and selectivity have led to “signaling”–branding, perceptions–that are increasingly divorced from the actual quality of classroom instruction. The laudable aim of the researchers is to turn the conversation away from college rankings and the metrics that drive them, and toward measurements of effective, challenging instruction.

Trained faculty observers visited nine colleges and 600 classes. Three of the nine had high prestige; two had minimum prestige; and four had low prestige. The schools were both public and private, with differing research and teaching emphases. We should note that there was no list of which schools were in each category, so we do not know exactly how the researchers defined “elite.” It appears likely, however, that many leading public research universities would be considered elite.

“Teaching quality was defined as instruction that displayed the instructor’s subject matter knowledge, drew out students’ prior knowledge and prodded students to wrestle with new ideas, while academic rigor was judged on the ‘cognitive complexity’ and the ‘level of standards and expectations’ of the course work,” Lederman writes.

“But they found that on only one of the five measures, cognitive complexity of the course work, did the elite colleges in the study outperform the non-elite institutions.”

First, we note that highly-qualified honors students at almost all colleges, including many less prestigious public universities, are far more likely to encounter more “cognitive complexity” in their honors courses. Whether this results from having more depth or breadth in actual assignments, from taking harder courses early on, or from engaging in more challenging interactions with similarly smart students and the best faculty, the learning experience in honors embraces complexity.

We also have to agree with one of the longest and most thoughtful comments posted on Lederman’s article, by one “catorenasci”:

“Well, is [more cognitive complexity] a surprise to anyone? After all…on average the students at elite colleges and universities (private or public) have demonstrated higher cognitive ability than the students at less prestigious colleges and universities. Which means that the faculty can teach at a level of greater cognitive complexity without losing (many) students.”

The full comment from “catorenasci” also seems to be on the mark when it comes to improved instruction in all other measured areas on the part of colleges with less prestige, regardless of honors affiliation.

“As for the level of ‘teaching quality’ based on faculty knowledge, given the job market today, it should hardly be surprising that it has equaled out since there are many top quality candidates for even less prestigious positions and overall, I would suspect that the ‘quality’ of the PhD’s of faculty at less elite schools is much closer to that of elite schools than it was during the ’50s and ’60s when higher education was expanding rapidly and jobs were plentiful.

“The transformational aspect should not be surprising either: assuming faculty are competent and dedicated, with less able students they will work harder to draw out what they know and build on it. And, it will be more likely that students will experience significant growth as the faculty do this.”

We Vote for US News Global Rankings vs Times Higher Ed World Rankings

The annual Times Higher Education World University Rankings have had the strongest presence in the ranking “world” since 2004, but here’s one vote for the U.S. News Best Global Universities rankings being better even though they have been around only two years. Both are useful because they measure the prestige and research impact of hundreds of universities around the world at a time when there is much more international cooperation–and competition–among institutions.

It is rare for us to applaud the U.S. News rankings because there are many serious issues with the annual “Best Colleges” publication. It over-emphasizes the financial resources of colleges and their selectivity, to the detriment of most public universities.

But when it comes to world rankings, U.S. News drops the focus on financial metrics in favor of academic reputation and research metrics, including the use of regional reputation surveys that help to offset the eurocentric bias of the Times Higher Ed rankings.

For example, the Times Higher Ed rankings list 42 European universities among the top 100 in the world, while U.S. News lists 31. The main reason is probably that the Times rankings do include financial metrics and do not factor in the additional regional reputation data.

Below is a table showing the U.S. public universities ranked among the top 100 in the world by U.S. News alongside the rankings of the same universities by Times Higher Ed. An additional column shows the average ranking of each school when both ranking systems are used. The average ranking of leading U.S. public universities by U.S. News is 44 out of 100; the average Times Higher Ed ranking of the same schools is 82.

 US News GlobalTimes Higher EdAverage
UC Berkeley3138
UC San Diego193929
UC Santa Barbara243931.5
North Carolina276345
UT Austin304638
Ohio St349062
UC Davis394441.5
UC Santa Cruz4814496
Penn State577566
UC Irvine6110683.5
Georgia Tech644152.5
Michigan St829992.5
Texas A&M88193140.5

Expert on International Higher Ed: “Un-Excellence” Initiatives Aimed at Public Universities Harm U.S. Standing in the World

Editor’s note: This post updated on October 1, 2016, after release of Times Higher Ed Rankings for 2016.

It is likely that Philip G. Altbach, a research professor and the founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, has the sharpest eye of anyone in America when it comes to seeing how well U.S. universities compare with rapidly improving institutions throughout the world. What he sees is not good.

U.S. public universities are losing ground to foreign institutions, most notably in Europe and Scandinavia.

(Below the following text are three tables. The first compares the Times Higher Ed world rankings of U.S. universities and those throughout the world for the years 2011 and 2016. The second shows the decline in rankings for U.S. public universities for the same  years. The third and final table shows the rise in rankings for U.S. private universities.

Altbach cites the work of colleague Jamil Salmi, who found that there are at least 36 “excellence initiatives” around the world “that have pumped billions of dollars into the top universities in these countries — with resulting improvements in quality, research productivity, and emerging improvements in the rankings of these universities. Even in cash-strapped Russia, the ‘5-100’ initiative is providing $70 million into each of 15 selected universities to help them improve and compete globally. [Emphasis added.]

“At the same time, American higher education is significantly damaging its top universities through continuous budget cuts by state governments. One might call this an American “unExcellence initiative” as the world’s leading higher education systematically damages its top research universities. Current developments are bad enough in a national context, but in a globalized world, policies in one country will inevitably have implications elsewhere. Thus, American disinvestment, coming at the same time as significant investment elsewhere, will magnify the decline of a great higher education system.”

One reason: All the bad publicity about cuts in funding, along with high-profile political grandstanding that has received far too much attention throughout the world academic community. For example, UT Austin endured years of highly publicized attacks by former Governor Perry during his second term, and UW Madison has been hurt by similar actions on the part of Governor Scott Walker.

Unless state legislatures move toward excellence and restore pre-Great Recession funding levels, there will be “a revolution in global higher education and create space for others at the top of the rankings. It would also be extraordinarily damaging for American higher education and for America’s competitiveness in the world.”

The average ranking for the 23 U.S. publics among the top 100 in the world in 2011 was 39th, while in 2016 it was 49th–and only 15 publics were among the top 100. Meanwhile, leading U.S. private universities have seen both their average reputation rankings and overall rankings rise since 2011.

To illustrate Professor Altbach’s point, we have generated the tables below.

This table compares the Times Higher Ed world  rankings of U.S. universities and those throughout the world for the years 2011 and 2016.

Top 100 Overall2011Public2016PublicGain/Loss

The following table shows the decline in rankings for U.S. public universities for the years 2011 and 2016. UC Davis is the only school to rise, while most dropped significantly.

Times Higher Ed Rankings2011201120162016
UC Berkeley48613
UC San Diego30324139
UT Austin31294646
UC Davis38544444
Georgia Tech39274941
UC Santa Barbara55296539
North Carolina41306563
Purdue 4710675113
Ohio State55667590

This last table shows the rise in rankings for leading U.S. private universities for the years 2011 and 2016.

Times Higher Ed Rankings2011201120162016
Johns Hopkins14131812
Carnegie Mellon28202822

Best Colleges for Pell Grant Support and High Grad Rates for Recipients

The New York Times, in its “Upshot” feature, has analyzed for the second consecutive year data for some 179 colleges and universities to determine the “economic diversity” of the institutions. What this boils down to is a scoring mechanism that ranks the schools according to the percentage of freshmen who receive Pell Grants and graduate. The grants typically go to students with a family income of $70,000 or less.

Note: Two tables are listed below, the first for public universities and the second for private schools.

The review of access data is also useful for families whose income is greater than 70k. To be included in the analysis and ranking, each school had to have a 2014 five-year grad rate of 75% or more. This information in itself is a handy way to group these schools by grad rate.

Other data elements stand out: only 32 public institutions made the list because of the grad rate threshold, while 147 private schools are on the list. This, too, is useful, but the story is more involved that these figures suggest. The 32 public schools actually have more Pell Grant recipient/graduates (26,690) than the 147 private schools (20,192). The average percentage of freshmen with Pell Grants in the public universities is 17%; for the private schools, 14% of freshmen are recipients.

Publics have lower average net cost for Pell Grant recipients, $16,250 versus $19,986.

One more interesting element is that the amount of endowment per student is far less for public universities. UC Irvine, ranked number 1 in the analysis, has an endowment per student of $11,000; for Princeton, ranked number 18 in economic access, the endowment per student is $2,320,000. It is common for the per student endowment for publics to be only 5-15 percent of that for wealthy private colleges. Nevertheless, the publics do somewhat better relative to private schools in providing economic access. The link to the New York Times report lists the endowment figures for each school.

RankPublic College or UniversityFreshmenPell %Total PellNet Price
1University of California-Irvine54490.42179.613000
2University of California-Davis50630.311569.5314000
3University of California-Santa Barbara45970.311425.0714000
4University of California-San Diego52180.281461.0413000
5University of California-Los Angeles56840.281591.5213000
6University of Florida63480.241523.529000
7University of California-Berkeley46770.231075.7113000
24University of Georgia52190.17887.2313000
27Rutgers-New Brunswick63930.231470.3920000
29Texas A&M-College Station90300.171535.114000
35SUNY at Binghamton25850.251718000
40University of Texas at Austin71180.171210.0617000
48University of Michigan61760.12741.1212000
49University of Illinois73210.171244.5718000
54Georgia Tech-Main Campus26690.11293.5911000
59University of Vermont24830.13322.7915000
65Ohio State-Main Campus71210.151068.1517000
75University of New Hampshire28690.18516.4222000
77College of William and Mary14790.09133.1111000
79University of Maryland40110.12481.3215000
87University of Connecticut37410.14523.7418000
91SUNY at Geneseo11280.13146.6418000
94University of Delaware42100.11463.115000
102University of Virginia35160.11386.7616000
113Virginia Tech53600.12643.218000
114James Madison41990.1419.916000
116University of Wisconsin-Madison63230.1632.316000
118The College of New Jersey14020.14196.2822000
148University of Pittsburgh38510.12462.1226000
152Penn State-Main Campus80050.11880.5525000
157Miami University-Oxford36370.09327.3324000
RankPrivate College or UniversityFreshmenPell %StudentsNet Price
12Westminster, Pa.3020.2781.5421000
25Moody Bible Institute4140.2499.3621000
33Gustavus Adolphus6100.21128.119000
39U. Penn.23530.14329.4213000
41St. Mary’s, Md.3830.1661.2815000
42College of Saint Benedict5380.2107.621000
44Claremont McKenna3370.1240.4411000
46Wheaton, Ill.5970.17101.4918000
53Franklin and Marshall6040.1696.6417000
57Saint John’s4970.1784.4919000
63St. Olaf7520.15112.817000
64Washington and Lee4800.0943.210000
66University of Richmond8050.13104.6515000
80University of Rochester14720.16235.5220000
81University of Chicago14260.1142.613000
86Mount Holyoke5110.1471.5418000
95Johns Hopkins13900.12166.816000
96St. Lawrence Univ.6290.16100.6422000
97College of the Holy Cross7190.15107.8521000
98Bryn Mawr3650.1347.4518000
101Siena College7660.19145.5426000
103Illinois Wesleyan5270.1684.3222000
105Notre Dame20700.120716000
106Washington & Jefferson3260.1755.4223000
108Trinity, Conn.6040.160.415000
115Connecticut College4890.1258.6819000
117Trinity University, Tex.5340.1264.0819000
121Colorado College5220.152.218000
124Wheaton, Mass.4580.1673.2825000
127University of Portland8350.16133.626000
128Stevens Institute of Tech6220.1699.5226000
130Case Western12520.15187.825000
134Hobart William Smith6380.1276.5623000
136Washington Univ St. Louis15950.07111.6517000
139Boston College23050.11253.5523000
141Union College5590.1267.0824000
142University of Scranton8780.14122.9227000
144Wake Forest12300.11135.323000
145Loyola University, Maryland10960.12131.5224000
151George Washington23480.1234.823000
154Carnegie Mellon14420.11158.6225000
155University of Denver13990.12167.8827000
158Boston University38070.12456.8427000
162Santa Clara12910.11142.0127000
167University of Miami21150.12253.829000
171Southern Methodist14280.09128.5227000
172University of Dayton17650.08141.227000
173Worcester Polytechnic Inst11030.11121.3331000
175Rhode Island School of Design4550.1568.2536000
177Texas Christian19350.06116.127000
178University of Puget Sound6700.1173.733000
179Saint Joseph’s, Pa.12720.0789.0430000

U.S. News Top 20 Publics 2009-2016: Resources, Grad Rates, Class Size

The annual U.S. News Best Colleges rankings are extremely useful and interesting, but not exactly because of the rankings themselves.

The rankings do not so much answer questions as raise them. Why did a college or university with a strong academic reputation and grad rates not do better? Why did another college with a weak academic reputation and so-so grad rates do so well? How much does class size matter?

Of course the rankings also provide great and useful stats about the questions raised above and about the test score ranges and high school GPA’s of enrolled students.

But when it comes to the rankings, what should matter most are grad and retention rates, class sizes, academic reputation, and, most problematically, the financial resources of colleges. The last should not be counted because it is the “input” factor for the other things measured as “outputs” and therefore only magnifies the impact of money.

The table below shows how the impact of “financial resources” can have such an impact on rankings. Only the College of William and Mary seems invulnerable to the typically damaging impact of low financial resources. The main reason is high grad rates, the 4th highest percentage (among top publics) of classes with 20 or fewer students, and the lowest percentage of classes with 50 or more students.  Of course, William and Mary is, by far, the smallest of the leading publics.

The University of Washington has the most puzzling combination: a financial resources ranking significantly higher than the ranking of the school. For a while now, the numbers for UW have looked odd to us, although the school itself is at least on a par with Wisconsin, Illinois, and UT Austin.

UT Austin is a more typical case. The university is penalized not only for having relatively low financial resources (per student) but also because the resulting outputs (especially class sizes) are well below the mean. That UT Austin is too large to be ranked in proportion to its academic reputation may be the fault of the powers that be in Texas; but that it is penalized as well because of the low score in financial resources is, in effect, a double whammy.

The other side of the coin, so to speak, is that magnifying the wealth metric is a built-in boost to many private universities. Most public universities, however, do relatively well only in spite of the magnification of the wealth factor.

Because of the width of the table, readers will need to scroll horizontally to see the last one or two columns. If you want to track a single school while scrolling, just select the entire row and then scroll.

NationalYRYRAvgChg 09GradClassClassPeerGr/Ret$$$
University20092016Rankto 16Rate%<20%>50RatingRankRank
N. Carolina303029.62509039.21542832
Wm Mary323432.625-29047.593.728113
Ga Tech353635.625-18238.6254.14944
UC Davis444139.87538734.8273.84732
UC Irvine443943.7558758.3203.63651
Washington 415245.5-118435.1223.85432
Penn State474745.508638.4153.63856
UT Austin475248.375-58136.52545878
Ohio St565254.2548329.6223.74971
Georgia 586160-38538.8123.440120
Mean Avg39.2540.240.06875-0.9586.943.96519.43.88537.5556.5

The UC Universities and U.S. News

The U.S. News rankings for 2016 are  something of a tribute to major University of California universities. For 2016, six UC institutions are among the top 41 national universities, though none is higher than 20th (Berkeley). But if one looks closely at the UC scores in major output categories and in the financial resources category, there are some interesting differences. Academic reputation, though not a “pure” output category, is also discussed below.

As we have noted several times on this site, by assigning weight for the amount of financial resources and for the outputs related to those resources (class size, ratios of students to faculty), the U.S. News rankings magnify wealth. The outputs alone are what should be included.

  • UC Berkeley and UCLA, ranked 20th and 23rd  overall, are strong across the board. At both schools the majority of class sections have 20 students or fewer. Both have strong academic reputations along with high grad and retention rates. What most people might not guess is that UCLA is ranked 20th among all national universities in financial resources, and Berkeley 39th.
  • UC San Diego and UC Davis, ranked 39th and 41st overall in 2016, score well below average among top 20 public universities in the class size metrics. But along with solid grad/retention rates they also rank 21st and 32nd in financial resources, providing them with a boost more typical of private universities. UC San Diego and UC Davis both score 3.8 in the rep metric.
  • UC Irvine, ranked 39th, is well-balanced overall except that its academic reputation is a relatively modest 3.6 out of 5. This compares to UC Berkeley’s 4.7 and UCLA’s 4.2.
  • UC Santa Barbara, meanwhile, has the second lowest academic rep score among the top 20 public schools, 3.5., and ranks only 67th in financial resources. But UCSB gets it done by having more smaller classes and strong grad/retention rates.

Except for some slight dropoffs in scores for academic reputation and the larger classes at Davis and San Diego, the UC campuses prosper in the rankings because they don’t have shortcomings in more than one or two metrics. And only one–UCSB–ranks worse than 60th in the questionable category of financial resources.

Two other factors that help the UC campuses in the rankings is that first-year entrants are highly qualified, both in test scores and class standing. Applicants who are not accepted as freshmen often attend community colleges and Cal State universities, and when they transfer with high GPA’s, they have a proven record that contributes to the high average grad rates at the six UC’s discussed above: 88%.

The UC approach is preferable by far to the automatic admission rules at the University of Texas at Austin, at least from the standpoint of rankings and graduation rates. The legislatively-imposed “top 10% rule” at UT (actually top 8% in 2016) leads to the admission of students whose class standing at a poor high school carries the same weight as the class standing at the most rigorous high schools.

If these students attended less demanding state universities for their first year or two and did extremely well (the California model), their chances of succeeding would likely improve. Many would not be admitted at all as freshmen to a major UC campus regardless of high school class rank because of low test scores or insufficiently demanding high school classes.

Even if UT Austin maintained its (too large) enrollment levels demanded by the legislature, having better qualified freshmen and transfers would kick up the graduation rate (now 81%). The academic reputation of UT (4.0) and, indeed the real strength of its academic departments, should place the university in the top five or six among public research institutions.

The problem in Austin is not UT; the problem is the state legislature a few blocks away.

Note: UT Austin has outstanding honors programs that concentrate the academic excellence at the university and feature much smaller classes: Plan II, Liberal Arts Honors, Business Honors, Engineering Honors, and multiple Natural Science honors programs.

Honors News is a regular (not always daily) update, in brief, of recent news from honors colleges/programs and from the world of higher ed. Occasionally, a bit of opinion enters the discussion. These brief posts are by John Willingham, unless otherwise noted. In fairness to UT Austin, of which I am an alum, the multiple honors programs there are outstanding and offset the issues with class size and graduation rates by concentrating the excellence of the university.