U.S. News & World Report released its 2015 college rankings this week. The Best Colleges 2015 edition offers rankings and data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities across the U.S.
According to the report, the Best National University is Princeton (NJ), followed by Harvard (MA), Yale (CT), Columbia (NY), Stanford (CA) and the University of Chicago (IL). Columbia, Stanford, and the University of Chicago all tied for fourth. The Best National Liberal Arts College is Williams College (MA), followed by Amherst College (MA) and Swarthmore College (PA). U.S. News also put together college rankings for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges.
“U.S. News rankings are popular with parents and students despite extensive skepticism in the educational community,” said Mandee Heller Adler, founder and CEO of International College Counselors.
To create the 2015 lists, U.S. News used quantitative measures. According to their website, they gathered data from each college on up to 16 indicators of academic excellence. Each factor was assigned a weight that reflected the judgment of U.S. News about how much the measure mattered. Then the schools were ranked against the other schools in their category, based on their score.
These are the indicators used by U.S. News to capture academic quality, their weights in the ranking formula and a brief explanation of each.
Undergraduate academic reputation (22.5 percent): A school’s reputation was based on an academic peer assessment survey of top academics at other schools, including presidents, provosts and deans of admissions. For the national universities and liberal arts colleges, the survey also went to 2,152 counselors at public high schools, each of which was a gold, silver or bronze medal winner in the U.S. News rankings of Best High Schools, as well as 400 college counselors at the largest independent schools. Academic peer assessment accounted for 15 percentage points of the ranking while 7.5 percentage points were for the counselor ratings.
Retention (22.5 percent): This measure has two parts: the average proportion of a graduating class earning a degree in six years or less (80 percent of this score) and the average proportion of freshmen who entered the school in the fall of 2009 through fall 2012 and returned the following fall (20 percent). According to U.S. News, these retention rates are likely to indicate that a school offers the classes and services that students need to succeed.
Faculty resources (20 percent): The following measures were used to deduce that students had more contact with their professors: the proportion of classes with fewer than 20 students (30 percent of the faculty resources score) and the proportion with 50 or more students (10 percent of the score). The next set of measures were said to indicate a school’s commitment to instruction. The first was the average faculty salary, plus benefits, during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years, adjusted for regional cost of living differences (35 percent). Also weighed were the proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields (15 percent), the student-faculty ratio (5 percent) and the proportion of faculty who work full time (5 percent).
Student selectivity (12.5 percent): This measure had three components: the admissions test scores for all enrollees who took the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the ACT score (65 percent of this score); the proportion of freshmen at the national universities and liberal arts colleges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes or the proportion of freshmen at regional universities and colleges who graduated in the top 25 percent of their classes (25 percent); and the ratio of admitted students to applicants (10 percent).
Financial resources (10 percent): This indicator took per-student spending into account, meaning the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures.
Graduation rate performance (7.5 percent): They basically measured the difference between a school’s six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2007 and the U.S. News prediction for the class. This indicator is supposed to show the effect of the college’s programs and policies on the graduation rate of students.
Alumni giving rate (5 percent): This reflects the average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.
“Rankings get a lot of attention; however, it is important for families to know that the college search is not all about getting into the Best College as decided by a survey. The best college for one student is not necessarily the best college for another,” said Adler. “Choosing the right college requires the consideration of many sources.”