Harvard stays atop the 2019 Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education US college ranking
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
Harvard University tops another university ranking. In their third edition, The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings again named Harvard University their best college. WSJ and THE released their third annual joint ranking of 968 American colleges on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. The top ten included some of the country’s most elite universities including six belonging to the Ivy League. As the Wall Street Journal summed up the ranking, “The big names distinguish themselves, but so do some hidden gems Cambridge is king. Size doesn’t matter. And money talks.”
Besides Harvard, there are six other schools in the Northeast in the top ten including five more from the Ivy League. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and ivies Columbia, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Cornell rule the top ten. Only three schools outside the elite location made the top ten including two from California, Stanford, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and North Carolina’s Duke University representing the South.
The top ten was again shaken up with much movement; only Harvard in first and Princeton in ninth remain in their positions from last year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) moved up from tied for third to second. Yale moved up three to third, Columbia moved down two to fourth, while California Institute of Technology (Caltech) keeps making strides moving up two to fifth. Last year the country’s most selective school, Stanford tied for third, this year it moves down three to sixth place. The Ivy League’s Brown University was the only new entry, moving up from 11th to tied for seventh with Duke, who moves down two. Princeton remains at ninth and the University of Pennsylvania moved down two to tenth. This year Cornell University exits the top ten down one to 11th.
The majority of the schools in the top 30 are private, as well as the entire top 10. The only public schools in the top 30 are the University of California-Los Angeles, which is the top ranking public school this year coming in again at 25th place. The top public schools include the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor remaining №28, the University of California, Berkeley moving up seven to №33 and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moving down to №37. Although public universities faced funding cuts, they did better than in last year’s ranking, this year 24 schools were included in the top 100, last year there were only 21.
The University of California, Davis Provost Ralph Hexter observed, “There is no question there are many more larger classes here than at the superelite private schools. But students can find a niche here; we feel they are getting a tremendous education.” Public service academy U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. enters the ranking for the first time at №58 overall and in 10th place in the public university list.
The WSJ/THE ranking is one of the many rankings that now focuses heavily on the outcomes of getting a degree from one the institutions on their list, as Return on Investment (ROI) takes center stage in more rankings. The ranking uses data from THE and “measures institutions’ student engagement, student outcomes and learning environments.” WSJ emphasizes their ranking examines “how well a college will prepare students for life after graduation.” What sets the WSJ/ THE ranking apart is the survey that asks “the extent to which they felt engaged in their education.” Last year, 109,000 participated in the survey, this year 189,000 students did.
The methodology includes four main categories and 15 individual factors. WSJ explains the methodology’s marking system, “40 percent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including a measure of graduate salaries, 30 percent from the school’s academic resources, 20 percent from how well it engages its students and 10 percent from the diversity of its students and staff.” Some factors included in the ranking are the “salaries of graduates and debt repayment rates, school reputation, research impact, and how much a college spends to educate each student.” According to the WSJ, colleges are specifically marked in the following categories “alumni earnings, debt burdens, student engagement, resources, diversity of students and faculty, and academic reputation.” This year WSJ/THE added a new factor, “graduates’ ability to repay student debt” in their methodology under the outcomes category. Over 1,000 colleges were included in the ranking.
Expanding from last year, the WSJ/THE has six other rankings in addition to their overall ranking. They include “The Best Public Colleges in the U.S., The Colleges Whose Graduates Do Best Financially, Colleges Where Students Are Most Inspired by Their Peers, Colleges Where Students Feel Challenged, Public Universities Do Best When It Comes to Diversity, and Colleges That Prioritize Internships.”California is tops when it comes to top most diverse students with La Sierra University on the top and seven California public schools in the top 12. Students are the most challenged at Dordt College in Iowa and Texas Christian University. While Kettering University, Endicott College are the top schools That Prioritize Internships preparing their students for work after college. The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, however, is the top school for elevating income for graduates, while Harvard and Duke are the best universities for graduates to do best financially overall.
The rankings are based on specific categories, Resources, Student Outcomes, Engagement, and Environment. Graduates from the elite schools do better 10 years after graduation than those from public universities or small colleges. The top results like last year are a mix of private Ivy League and private universities. In the Student Outcomes category Harvard, Yale, and Duke tied for first place. Princeton is №4, MIT and Columbia tied for №5. At the bottom of the list are Rice University, Grinnell College and Colorado College. In the resources category Caltech, Harvard and MIT are on top. As US News notes, “Schools with significant endowments can afford generous financial-aid packages, hire enough faculty to offer small classes, support a robust range of extracurricular programs and give students hands-on research opportunities.”
The Ivy League schools did not dominate the entire ranking with public schools outweighing them into two categories, Engagement and Environment. For a third year, Dordt College is the top school in Engagement, according to US News religious colleges excel in the engagement category, because they have a “common faith and sense of shared purpose.” In second place was Oklahoma Baptist University, Cedarville University in Ohio was third, and Texas Christian University and Harding University in Arkansas tied for fourth. On the opposite end were the schools at the top of the ranking №2 MIT, came in at №304 on engagement, while Caltech and Princeton are Nos. 5 and 9, “both came in below №500 on engagement.”
The WSJ/THE have addressed the differences between their ranking and US News and World Report’s flagship ranking of American colleges and universities, specifically the discrepancies between their positioning of universities. The main reason for the differences all amounts to the methodologies each ranking uses to calculate national position. Carnegie Mellon, who came in at number 20, but number 25 under US News summed up well the reasons for the differences and the problems with rankings in a statement. The statement read, “Some rankings are designed purely for entertainment, little more than internet photo galleries. Others make a more serious effort at collecting information. Even where rankings do collect objective statistics such as test scores or costs, the choice of which factors to include in a ranking, and how those factors are weighted, remains subjective.”
WSJ/THE US College Rankings 2019 top 10:
1. Harvard University (1)
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (=3)
3. Yale University (6)
4. Columbia University (2)
5. California Institute of Technology (7)
6. Stanford University (3)
=7. Brown University
=7. Duke University (5)
9. Princeton University (9)
10. University of Pennsylvania (8)
Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.