Deciding where to apply for college is tough. But the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings, now in their 37th year, can help. Our latest edition assesses 1,466 U.S. bachelor’s degree-granting institutions on 17 measures of academic quality. The comparisons are useful for crafting a shortlist of institutions to examine more closely and may also highlight new options.
To further explore the rankings and data, U.S. News’ college profile pages benchmark each school’s performance across ranking indicators and include the latest statistics used in the calculations – such as the student-faculty ratio and the average federal loan debt of graduates. We also list information schools reported directly to U.S. News on academic majors offered, application requirements, tuition and financial aid policies, student body demographics, and campus life. Colleges’ individual profile pages have post-graduate earnings data by undergraduate focus as well as user ratings and reviews submitted by alumni.
In conjunction with the rankings and school profiles, the usnews.com search filter allows users to analyze schools with select characteristics. The My Fit College Search, a premium-level search accessible only to Compass subscribers, goes further by building customized rankings.
Taken together, the rankings, directory and search tools – combined with interviews, college visits, U.S. News’ education journalism and your own intuition – can be powerful resources in your quest for the best fit college.
Background on This Year’s Rankings
Although the methodology is the product of years of research, we continuously refine our approach based on user feedback, discussions with schools and higher education experts, literature reviews, trends in our own data, availability of new data, and engaging with deans and institutional researchers at higher education conferences. Our detailed methodology is transparent in part for use by schools and academics, but mostly because we believe prospective students will find our rankings more useful if they know what the rankings measure.
Only thoroughly vetted academic data from our surveys and reliable third-party sources are used to calculate each ranking factor. This means for better or for worse, we do not factor nonacademic elements like social life and athletics; we do not conduct unscientific straw polls for use in our computations; and schools’ ranks are not manipulated to coddle business relationships.
U.S. News surveyed schools in the spring and summer of 2021. Some of this information published on our website – most notably tuition and fees – reflect the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year. However, the latest data available for the ranking calculations pertained to fall 2020 and earlier. Notably, SAT/ACT scores mostly reflect a test-taking period from 2019 to early 2020, before the effects of the coronavirus were felt in the United States. Nonetheless, to account for the disruption to higher education due to the ongoing pandemic, we slightly adjusted how we assessed SAT/ACT scores and made greater use of historic data for a few of the other ranking indicators, described below.
How Ranks Are Determined
We calculated 10 distinct overall rankings where colleges and universities were grouped by their academic missions. For each ranking, the sum of weighted, normalized values across 17 indicators of academic quality determine each school’s overall score and, by extension, its overall rank.
The top performer(s) in each ranking displays an overall score of 100. Others’ overall scores are on a 0-99 scale reflecting the distance from their ranking’s top-performing school(s). Those placing outside the top 75% display their ranking’s bottom quartile range (e.g., No. 90-120) instead of their individual ranks (e.g., No. 102
The Ranking Factors
The ranking factors and their corresponding weights are unchanged from the 2021 edition. There were some modifications in how they were calculated. For more granular descriptions of the ranking factors, see the
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Forty percent of a school’s rank comes from outcomes. Among them, average graduation and retention rates combine to be the most heavily weighted factor in our rankings, at 22%, because degree completion is necessary to receive the full benefits of undergraduate study from employers and graduate schools. Other outcome measures are graduation rate performance (8%), social mobility (5%) and graduate indebtedness (5%).
Graduation and retention rates: This has two components.
- A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class (fall 2011-2014) earning a degree in six years or less (17.6%).
- A four-year rolling average of the proportion of first-year entering students (fall 2016-fall 2019) who returned the following fall (4.4%).
Graduation rate performance:We compared each college’s actual six-year graduation rate with what we predicted for its fall 2014 entering class. The predicted rates were modeled from factors including admissions data, the proportion of undergraduates who were awarded Pell Grants, school financial resources, the proportion of federal financial aid recipients who are first-generation college students, and National Universities’ math and science orientations. We divided each school’s actual graduation rate by its predicted rate and took a two-year average of the quotients for use in the rankings.
Social mobility: This indicator measures how well schools graduated students who received federal Pell Grants. Students receiving these grants typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, with most money going to students with total family incomes below $20,000. For the third consecutive year, U.S. News published a distinct social mobility ranking for all ranked schools. The social mobility ranking was computed by aggregating the two ranking factors assessing graduation rates of Pell-awarded students.
- Pell Grant graduation rates incorporate six-year graduation rates of Pell Grant students, adjusted to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. This is computed as a two-year rolling average.
- Pell Grant graduation rate performance compares each school’s six-year graduation rate among Pell recipients with its six-year graduation rate among non-Pell recipients by dividing the former into the latter, then adjusting to give much more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions. The higher a school’s Pell graduation rate relative to its non-Pell graduation rate up to the rates being equal, the better it scores. This, too, is computed as a two-year rolling average.
For the second consecutive year, two graduate indebtedness figures are included in the rankings based on data collected by U.S. News during the spring and summer of 2020 and 2021 on our financial aid survey. The two indicators are:
Graduate indebtedness: Affordability of college and the value of that degree after graduation – in terms of being able to earn enough money to make the loan payments – are prime concerns of prospective students and their families. Consequently, we assessed two measures of graduate indebtedness totaling 5% of each school’s overall score.
The graduate indebtedness total ranking factor (weighted 3%) assesses each school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among its 2019 and 2020 bachelor’s degree graduating classes by comparing it to the median debt amount among ranked schools.
Graduate indebtedness proportion (weighted 2%) is the percentage of graduates from the 2019 and 2020 bachelor’s degree graduating classes who borrowed federal loans. This ranking factor credits schools for meeting the full financial need without loans of their undergraduates (who would not be included in the graduate indebtedness total cohort) by comparing the proportions who borrowed to the median proportion among ranked schools.
Both the graduate indebtedness total and graduate indebtedness proportion ranking factors incorporate federal loans made to students who borrowed while enrolled at the institutions and co-signed loans. They exclude students who transferred in, money borrowed at other institutions, parent loans and students who did not graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
New for the 2022 edition, we averaged schools’ scores from the 2021 and 2020 rankings to mitigate year-to-year volatility.
Faculty Resources (20%)
Research shows the greater access students have to quality instructors, the more engaged they will be in class and the more they will learn and be satisfied with their instructors. U.S. News uses five factors from the 2020-2021 academic year to assess a school’s commitment to instruction: class size (8%), faculty salary (7%), faculty with the highest degree in their fields (3%), student-faculty ratio (1%) and proportion of faculty who are full time (1%).
- At 8%, class size is the most heavily weighted faculty resource measure. Schools score better with greater proportions of smaller classes for fall 2020. Schools have always been instructed to exclude classes taught fully online from this reporting, but pertaining to fall 2020 were instructed to include classes designed for in-person instruction, even if they were temporarily taught online because of the coronavirus. To downweight the influence of an irregular year due to the pandemic, schools’ scores on the fall 2020 data were averaged against their scores from fall 2019 data – the first time U.S. News scored this ranking factor using a two-year average.
- Faculty salary is weighted at 7% and includes the average full-time faculty salaries for assistant, associate and full-time professors for 2020-2021, based on definitions from the American Association of University Professors. Salary data was once again adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living using the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis regional price parities indexes and was based on regional prices indexes published in December 2020. We returned to calculating average faculty salary as a two-year average because this is the second rankings edition to use the latest AAUP definitions during data collection.
Expert Opinion (20%)
Academic reputation matters because it factors things that cannot easily be captured elsewhere. For example, an institution known for having innovative approaches to teaching may perform especially well on this indicator, whereas a school struggling to keep its accreditation will likely perform poorly.
Each year, top academics – presidents, provosts and deans of admissions – rate the academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). We take a two-year weighted average of the ratings. The 2022 Best Colleges rankings factor in scores from both 2021 and 2020.
A change from the previous edition, the very small proportion of schools that received fewer than 10 cumulative ratings (exclusively regional colleges in the 2022 edition) receive assigned values equaling the lowest average score among schools that received at least 10 ratings.
U.S. News collected the most recent data by administering peer assessment surveys to schools in spring and summer 2021. Of the 4,741 academics who were sent questionnaires on the overall rankings in 2021, 34.1% responded – just shy of the 36.4% response rate in 2020.
Schools interested in a breakdown of their peer assessment ratings by respondent type and region can access this information, along with 29 million other data points, with a subscription to U.S. News’ Academic Insights. This web-based platform facilitates a deep dive for studying and benchmarking the rankings and is designed for colleges and universities only.
Financial Resources (10%)
Generous per-student spending indicates a college can offer a variety of programs and services. U.S. News measures financial resources by using the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. Expenditures were compared with fall 2018 and fall 2019 full-time and part-time undergraduate and graduate enrollment, respectively.
Student Excellence (7%)
Selective admissions enables talented, hard-working students to share a learning environment with their academic peers and enables instructors to design rigorous classes.
Standardized tests:U.S. News factors average test scores for all enrollees who took the mathematics and evidence-based reading and writing portions of the SAT and the composite ACT in fall 2020. Both SATs and ACTs were converted to their 0-100 test taker percentile distributions and weighted based on the proportions of new entrants submitting each exam. For example, if a school had two-thirds of its test takers submitting ACT scores and one-third submitting SAT scores, its ACT scores would weigh twice as heavily as its SAT scores toward this ranking factor.
We weighted standardized tests at 5% in the overall rankings.
Schools sometimes fail to report SAT and ACT scores for students in these categories: athletes, international students, minority students, legacies, those admitted by special arrangement and those who started in the summer term. For any school that did not report all scores or that declined to say whether all scores were reported, U.S. News reduced its combined SAT/ACT percentile distribution value used in the ranking model by 15%.
A change for the 2022 edition – if the combined percentage of the fall 2020 entering class submitting test scores was less than 50% of all new entrants, its combined SAT/ACT percentile distribution value used in the rankings was discounted by 15%. In previous editions, the threshold was 75% of new entrants. The change was made to reflect the growth of test-optional policies through the 2019 calendar year and the fact that the coronavirus impacted the fall 2020 admission process at many schools.
U.S. News again ranks “test blind” schools, for which data on SAT and ACT scores were not available, by assigning them a rankings value equal to the lowest test score in their rankings. These schools differ from ones with test-optional or test-flexible admissions for which SAT and ACT scores were available and were always rank eligible.
High school class standing: U.S. News incorporates the proportion of enrolled first-year students at National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges who graduated in the top 10% of their high school classes, and for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges, the proportion who graduated in the top quarter of their high school classes. This contributes 2% toward schools’ overall scores.
Alumni Giving (3%)
This is the average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Giving measures student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement.
Grouping Ranked Colleges
To make valid comparisons, we group schools by academic mission into 10 distinct rankings.
- National Universities offer a range of undergraduate majors, plus master’s and doctoral programs, and emphasize faculty research or award professional practice doctorates.
- National Liberal Arts Colleges focus almost exclusively on undergraduate education and award at least 50% of their degrees in the arts and sciences.
- Regional Universities offer a broad scope of undergraduate degrees and some master’s degree programs but few, if any, doctoral programs. We ranked them in four geographical groups: North, South, Midwest and West.
- Regional Colleges focus on undergraduate education but grant fewer than 50% of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. Some regional colleges award two-year associate degrees as well as bachelor’s degrees. We ranked them in four geographical groups: North, South, Midwest and West.
To place each school in its ranking, U.S. News strictly mapped its categories to The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s Basic Classification system, using its 2018 update for the third consecutive year. The U.S. Department of Education and many higher education associations use the Carnegie system to organize and label their data, among other uses. In short, the Carnegie categories are the accepted standard in U.S. higher education. That is why U.S. News has been using them since the first Best Colleges rankings were published in 1983.
U.S. News collects data directly from schools to have the most recent information available and to obtain critical information not available from third party sources. This year, 85% of ranked institutions returned their statistical information in the spring and summer of 2021.
For quality assurance, data schools reported to U.S. News was algorithmically compared with their previous years’ submissions to detect possible inaccuracies. Respondents were required to review, possibly revise and verify any flagged data before they could submit their surveys. They were also instructed to have a top academic official sign off on the accuracy of the data. Schools that declined this last step could still be ranked, but display a footnote on their U.S. News profile on usnews.com.
After submitting, U.S. News assessed the veracity of data submitted on a factor-by-factor level and contacted select schools to confirm or revise data. This process compared schools’ data with third party data when available, submissions from other ranked schools and the schools’ own previous submissions. Schools that did not respond or were unable to confirm their data’s accuracy may have had the data in question unpublished and unused in the calculations.
For schools that left blank questions pertaining to individual ranking factors or who refused to participate altogether, we obtained substitute data from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard and its National Center for Education Statistics (finances, faculty counts, student-teacher ratios, faculty salaries, SAT and ACT scores, Pell and non-Pell graduation rates, and overall graduation and first-year retention rates). Altogether, ranking indicators that constitute approximately 85% of each schools’ overall score may use third-party data when survey data was not reported. When substitute data was not available, schools received assigned values that are lower than most schools’ actual values. As always, schools incur no explicit penalty in the rankings for not submitting their data to U.S. News, but often benefit by being scored on their complete, most recent data.
Schools that refused to fill out the U.S. News survey altogether display a footnote on their profiles as nonresponders. Missing data is reported as “N/A” on usnews.com, which only means that those specific data points were missing. N/A does not necessarily equate to how a school was scored on the ranking factor or whether the school received an assigned value or was scored on historical data. U.S. News doesn’t publish estimates if they were used for schools with missing ranking indicator values.
In total, U.S. News has collected data on more than 1,850 institutions. While data for all schools appears on usnews.com, 1,466 schools were ranked.
In total, 404 colleges are listed as unranked; of these, 116 are in the Carnegie categories that are used in the main overall Best Colleges rankings. The unranked designation owes to one of the following reasons:
- They are in a Carnegie Classification that U.S. News has not included in its ranking categories. These include, but are not limited to, 288 highly specialized schools in arts, business, engineering, health, medicine and technology.
- A six-year graduation rate of bachelor’s degree students could not be found; this was most common with schools that enrolled very few full-time, first-year students and among new institutions.
- The institution’s total undergraduate and graduate enrollment is fewer than 200 students.
- Following communication between U.S. News and a school about its data, a formerly ranked school can become unranked.
In previous editions, schools needed at least 10 cumulative ratings from the peer assessment indicator to be ranked. That requirement was discontinued because these schools now receive an assigned value in the rankings. This change resulted only in about a dozen more schools ranked in the 2022 edition versus the 2021 edition.
Different from schools that are listed on usnews.com as unranked, some U.S. schools that award bachelor’s degrees are excluded from the Best Colleges directory altogether. These schools either didn’t have regional accreditation, are graduate schools that have not recently enrolled any first-year students, or only offer distance education, according to 2020 data from the federal government. However, some institutions in the latter two groups were ranked and listed separately in January 2021 as part of U.S. News’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs ranking.
Other College Rankings
U.S. News published undergraduate nursing program rankings for the first time this year. They were produced using data from a specialized nursing peer assessment survey administered in the spring and summer of 2021. A partial list of other rankings includes:
- U.S. News once again published discipline-specific undergraduate rankings in computer science, engineering and business.
- The Best Value Schools rankingsincorporate the overall ranking, but also credit schools for the amount of financial support made available to students with need.
- Prospective students interested in schools designated by the federal government as historically Black colleges and universities can review the 2022 edition of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities rankings.
- Veterans and active service members interested in strong academic schools that take advantage of Yellow Ribbon financial aid benefits may want to review the Best Colleges for Veterans rankings.
- A-Plus Schools for B Studentsis a listing of well-ranked schools that often enroll students without immaculate high school transcripts.
More to Come …
Check out usnews.com throughout the year as we may get new information and add to the Best Colleges rankings. And as you mine these tables for insights – where you might win some merit aid, for example, or where you will be apt to get the most attention from professors – keep in mind that they provide a launching pad, not an easy answer
source : https://www.usnes.c*m/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings