With new formula, some movement within U.S. News & World Report rankings

U.S. News & World Report published its 2024 Best Colleges List this week, emphasizing its new formula for college ranking, Higher Ed Dive reports. The list has faced prolonged criticism from colleges and higher education leaders, who said the rankings prioritize schools’ prestige and selectivity rather than their success putting students on a path to social mobility or supporting students from historically marginalized groups.

Last year, after raising concerns that the list’s methodology went against the principles of legal education and the profession, some top law schools, including Yale Law School, Harvard Law School, and Georgetown University Law Center, ended their participation in its law school rankings. Several medical schools and undergraduate institutions also have withdrawn their participation; the publication said it will still consider schools that did not cooperate with the rankings, The Washington Post reports.

Related: Georgetown Law no longer participating in U.S. News rankings >

‘Significant’ changes in methodology

Although U.S. News & World Report has previously updated its formula, the increased emphasis on social mobility and outcomes for graduating college students for the 2024 Best Colleges rankings represents “the most significant methodological change in the rankings’ history,” the company says in a press release. Those changes, U.S. News explains, “are part of the ongoing evolution to make sure our rankings capture what is most important for students as they compare colleges and select the school that is right for them.” The Best Colleges List evaluates 1,500 higher education institutions using up to 19 measures of academic quality, the company says.

The new methodology measures social mobility and post-grad outcomes for students, such as whether they earned more than the average income for high school graduates, according to Higher Ed Dive. This year, more weight was given to graduation rates of students with federal Pell Grants, awarded to low- and moderate-income populations; an institution’s success graduating first-generation college students; and how that first-generation graduation rate compares to the college’s overall graduation rate.

Five factors previously included in the methodology were also removed: class size, faculty with terminal degrees, alumni donations, high school class standing, and the share of graduates who borrow federal loans. One metric the publication retained was the peer evaluation survey, in which presidents, provosts, and admissions deans rate institutions similar to their own; that reputation rating accounts for 20% of a college’s overall score.

More than 50% of an institution’s score is based on outcomes related to enrolling and graduating students from all backgrounds with manageable debt and post-graduate success, the publication says.

Changes in school rankings

Many of the list’s long-standing, top-ranking universities remained the same, with Princeton University in the number one spot, followed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University and Stanford University tied for third, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

However, some public institutions moved up the list, while several private universities fell—a result that reflects updates to the ranking methodology, The Washington Post says. Four of the six schools tied for 47th place reflect that change, the Post explains: Virginia Tech and Texas A&M University, public institutions, jumped 15 and 20 spots from a year ago, respectively, while the private institutions University of Rochester and Wake Forest University dropped 11 and 18 spots, respectively. CBS News also highlights University of Texas at San Antonio and California State University, East Bay, as leaping 92 and 88 spots, respectively. Several schools in the University of California system also climbed up the rankings.

Although college rankings can be a factor in selecting a school, they simplify what can be a complicated decision for students and their families considering college costs, proximity to where they currently live, and housing after they enroll, Anna Ivey, a college admissions consultant and former admissions dean at the University of Chicago Law School, tells USA Today. Of the rankings, she says, “Treat it for what it is. No less, no more.”

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