Harvard tops the 2018 Wall Street Journal, Times Higher Education second annual US college ranking

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Harvard University is replacing the country’s most selective university Stanford as the nations top university and is again regaining the preeminent top position in the public’s eyes. Wikipedia Commons

Another ranking has returned America’s crown jewel Harvard University to the top of university rankings charts. In their second edition, The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings named Harvard University their best college beating out last year’s school Stanford University as the rivalry between the two most selective universities in the country continues in this year’s ranking season. WSJ and THE released their second annual joint ranking of American colleges on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. The top ten included some of the country’s most elite universities including six belonging to the Ivy League. Harvard is regaining control in national rankings also topping Forbes American Top College in 2017 for the first time.

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 reign the top ten. Only three schools outside the elite location made the top ten including two from California, Stanford, the California Institute of Technology and North Carolina’s Duke University representing the South. Harvard gained ground in the engagement and environment categories boosting it back to the top of the rankings. Stanford lost ground and first place in the resources and outcomes categories.

The top ten has changed around drastically since the WSJ/THE Inaugural ranking with Harvard moving up from second place to number one and former top school Stanford slides to third place. In second is Columbia University who moves up from fifth, three spots to second place. Stanford does not have the third place alone it shares it with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who moves down one from last year. Rounding out the top five is Duke University moving up two to the fifth spot.

In the second half of the top ten Yale University remains in the sixth place. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is the only new school in the top ten moving up five spots from 12 to seventh place. The University of Pennsylvania moves down four to eighth place. US News and World Report’s Best College Princeton University remains at the ninth place. Cornell University completes the top ten moving down two spots. Last year’s tenth place school Northwestern University moved out of the top ten tumbling to number 15 in the ranking.

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 at №25 and last year’s top public school the University of Michigan at №27. UCLA moved up three from №28 last year, while Michigan moves down five from №22. Rounding out the top three public schools are the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill falling three out of the top 30 to №33.

Public schools in general did not fare well in the rankings with 80 out of the bottom 100 being public universities. Phil Baty, Editorial Director, Global Rankings, Times Higher Education sees this as a “serious” problem in the US, “The fact that there are only two publics in the top 30 is part of the narrative that there is a crisis in public higher education. We are seeing some real challenges in terms of resources, and I think this kind of inequality, this defunding of great American public schools, is a serious issue.” This issue is important because public schools are the ones accepting more racially and socioeconomically diverse students than private colleges, particularly the California state system. As Baty notes, “It’s an incredible story of access. But again, the schools with the greatest access are starved of funds. The privates are less inclusive.”

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. This year WSJ emphasized 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, 10,000 participated in the survey, this year, 109,000 were involved.

The methodology includes four main categories and 15 individual factors. WSJ explains the methodology’s marking system, “40 per cent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including a measure of graduate salaries, 30 per cent from the school’s academic resources, 20 per cent from how well it engages its students and 10 per cent 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 on 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.”

UCLA, Michigan, and UNC are the top public colleges. 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. The top results like last year are a mix of private Ivy League and private universities, and small little-known public colleges. Harvard University remains first when it comes to Resources. There was a new number one in the Student Outcomes category with Yale University out and Harvard and Duke vying and tying for first. The outcomes category most mirrors the overall top ten with most of the universities appearing in the lists top 11 with one addition, Williams College tied for ninth, but came in at №22 overall.

The Ivy League schools did not dominate the entire ranking with public schools outweighing them in two categories, Engagement and Environment. For a second year, Dordt College is the top school in Engagement, but was only №393 overall in the ranking. La Sierra University is still the best school for Environment although it does not even rank in the top 600. Environment examines whether a school is racially and socioeconomically diverse but also looks at “staff and the proportion of international students.” Ironically, none of the schools in the top five even made the Environment category’s top 50.

Dave Pettit, Editor of Specialized News Products, The Wall Street Journal discussed this year’s ranking in the press release. Pettit explained, “With so many schools to choose from and countless factors to consider, selecting the right college requires careful consideration and a lot of research. The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings are designed to help make the selection process easier and less intimidating.”

Baty, Editorial Director, Global Rankings, at the Times Higher Education commented, on what makes their ranking unique. Baty said, “In our first year, the Journal and THE were lauded for shaking up U.S. rankings. Unlike traditional competitors, we have built these rankings around a huge survey based on 200,000 current student voices, giving us a student’s eye view of teaching, learning, and life on campus. It gives a rounded and practical understanding of the strengths of individual institutions and the lifelong value of a degree.”

The WSJ/THE were quick to address 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 most noticeable difference is Princeton, who has topped US News’ ranking for several years, but was only number nine in the WSJ/THE ranking, because their engagement rank was a disappointing number 533.

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 2018 top 10:

1. Harvard University (6)
2. Columbia University (5)
3. Stanford University (1)
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (tie) (2)
5. Duke University (7)
6. Yale University (6)
7. California Institute of Technology (12)
8. University of Pennsylvania (4)
9. Princeton University (9)
10. Cornell University (8)

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is 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 experience in education & political journalism.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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