Princeton and Williams remain atop of US News 2019 Best Colleges amid ranking changes

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

U.S. News & World Report again has Princeton University and Williams College topping their list of Best Colleges for 2019. Source: Princeton.edu

After accusations of elitism rocked the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges ranking last year, this year they returned with a new methodology still, the rankings heavily consists of Ivy League and elite universities and colleges. When US News released their 2019 Best Colleges on Monday, September 10, 2019, Princeton University remained on the top of their Best National Universities list for the eighth year, while Williams College remained the Best National Liberal Arts College for the sixteenth year. The updated methodology places more emphasis on outcomes graduation and retention rates, rather than admission data, which for the first time was not included but still looks at “faculty resources, student academic credentials, and alumni giving.” The aim was to make the ranking more socially inclusive; still, the top 20 schools still represented the same elite universities as always.

Some schools, however, benefitted lower in the ranking including public universities, which catapulted the University of California Los Angeles to the Top Public School among National Universities, an honor it shared last year with UC Berkeley. US News touted the effect of their updated methodology pointing out, “The California university system improved in the rankings because of their performance graduating high proportions of low-income students — new this year in the Best Colleges methodology.” The United States Military Academy at West Point remains the Top Public School among National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking for the second year. Military colleges dominate this list. Former top school the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis remains in second.

Despite the changes to the ranking’s methodology, the Ivy League and elite universities dominate the Best National Universities. Princeton remains on top, followed by Harvard again in second. Four universities now tie for third place Columbia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) moving up from tied for fifth and the University of Chicago and Yale who remain tied in third as they were last year. Stanford University moves down two from tied in fifth to seventh. Duke moves up one to eighth place, while the University of Pennsylvania moves down one to ninth place. Rounding out the top ten, John Hopkins University moves back up one to tenth and Northwestern moves into the top ten to in that position. Last year’s tenth place California Institute of Technology (Caltech) moves out of the top ten down two to 12th.

Williams College. Source: TIME

There are also plenty of colleges tied in the Best National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking, listing the best primary undergraduate schools specializing in the arts and sciences, where the top schools still are private institutions. The top two remain unchanged, with Williams College on top and Amherst in second. Swarthmore and Wellesley tie for third place, with Swarthmore up one from last year. Now four colleges tie for fifth place; Bowdoin down two, Middlebury and Pomona College move up two, and Carleton College, who moves up three spots. Claremont McKenna remains ninth place, and Davidson College rounds out the top 10. Washington and Lee University moves out of the top ten now to tie for 11th with four other colleges.

This year one public university makes the overall top 20, University of California Los Angeles at 19th. The University of California system dominates the Public School National Universities list, with five of their campuses represented. Aside from UCLA and former top school, UC Berkeley is second after 20 years on top of the list, UC Santa Barbara fifth, UC Irvine seventh, and UC Davis at number 10. The nine UC campuses made the top 75 public schools.

University of California Los Angeles. Source: UCLA Admissions

In the overall ranking, six of the schools made the top 50, UCLA (№19), UC Berkeley (№22), UC Santa Barbara (№30), UC Irvine (№33), UC Davis (№38) and UC San Diego (№41). UC Riverside moved into the top 100 from 124 to 85 this year, UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox praised the new methodology. Wilcox expressed, “I’m heartened that more university ranking systems are beginning to recognize diversity, social mobility and student success as hallmarks of what make a great university — as opposed to exclusivity and wealth as primary measures. We have worked to provide students of all backgrounds access to a research university experience of the highest quality.”

As for the remaining Top Public Schools among National Universities ranking, the University of Virginia (25) maintains its third spot. The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (27) also stays in its spot at fourth. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (30) now ties for fifth with UC Santa Barbara. The Georgia Institute of Technology (35) ties for eighth with the University of Florida (35). The College of William and Mary rounds out the top 10.

The United States Military Academy is the only public school to make the Best National Liberal Arts Colleges top 20 with a tied for 18th placing, and the school also tops the Top Public Schools among National Liberal Arts Colleges for the second year. West Point moves down six from last year when it tied for 12th on the overall ranking. The United States Military Academy at Annapolis (22) is second, and the United States Air Force Academy (30) remains in third. Another military college the Virginia Military Institute remains in fourth place, and the New College of Florida (90) rounds out the top five. St. Mary’s College of Maryland moves down one to sixth, the University of North Carolina — Asheville (143) is seventh, the University of Minnesota — Morris ( 155) is eighth, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (162) is ninth and Purchase College — SUNY (172) rounds out the top 10.

Last year a scandal erupted, US News came under fire for claims that their Best Colleges ranking fuels elitism and shuts out low-income students seeking degrees because they would hinder schools’ quest to rise in the rankings. This year they revised their methodology, to quell the criticism. The new methodology upped the weight of student outcomes to 35 percent, the largest portion and they are looking at graduation rates among Pell Grant. US News noted, it “is measuring how well schools support low-income students through graduation.”

They added “social mobility indicators” to see how schools are “enrolling and graduating students from low-income families.” They also “eliminated acceptance rate as a factor,” and “reduced input measures” including expert opinions, and SAT/ACT scores. The new break down has graduation rates at 35 up from 30, and faculty resources 20 percent. Expert opinion amount for 20 percent and is the most subjective and controversial data set of the ranking, this year high school counselors’ feedback amount to only 5 percent. Financial resources 10 percent, student excellence 10 percent, with acceptance rates dropped, and alumni giving 5 percent, a perk that skews towards elite schools with wealthy alumni.

Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News commented in the press release “A university is not successful if it does not graduate its students, which is why the Best Colleges rankings place the greatest value on outcomes, including graduation and retention rates. By including social mobility indicators, U.S. News is further recognizing colleges that serve all of their students, regardless of economic status.” Morse also noted, “A university is not successful if it does not graduate its students, which is why the Best Colleges rankings place the greatest value on outcomes, including graduation and retention rates. By including social mobility indicators, U.S. News is further recognizing colleges that serve all of their students, regardless of economic status.”

US News publishes their “Best Colleges” ranking lists in different categories including National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Top Public Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges, A-plus Schools for B Students, Best Value Schools for universities and liberal arts colleges, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In total, more than 1,800 colleges and universities are profiled. Although public universities and liberal arts colleges are given separate lists, the same is not done with private universities and liberal arts colleges. The US News’ ranking categories are based on Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. US News Best Colleges’ methodology involves looking at over 1,800 universities and colleges to create their rankings; the results are determined by “16 measures of academic quality,” taken from the Common Data Set.

Despite the changes, critics are still not satisfied because elite universities and colleges still dominate the top spots in the ranking. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss remarked in her article, “U.S. News changed the way it ranks colleges. It’s still ridiculous.” Strauss remarks “Critics who have dismissed the rankings for obsessing on exclusivity and giving short shrift to social mobility might see that as a positive movement.” Still, Strauss sees problems in general with the rankings’ system, writing, “But, alas, the problems that made these influential rankings questionable in the past are not gone. As I wrote last year, the success of a data-based ranking is, obviously, the quality of the data. If you put junk in, you get junk out. And that’s pretty much what you get with most rankings of schools.” The main problem, “Wealthy schools continued to have an advantage in the rankings.” The changes helped much lower ranked public school move into the top 100, and as Strauss admits, “With a simple change in their formula, U.S. News rankers have helped to alter the image of many schools. That’s powerful.”

2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges

National Universities — Top 5
1. Princeton University (NJ) (1)
2. Harvard University (MA) (2)
3. Columbia University (NY) (tie) (5)
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (tie) (5)
3. University of Chicago (tie) (3)
3. Yale University (CT) (tie) (3)

National Liberal Arts Colleges — Top 5
1. Williams College (MA) (1)
2. Amherst College (MA) (2)
3. Swarthmore College (PA) (tie) (4)
3. Wellesley College (MA) (tie) (3)
5. Bowdoin College (ME) (tie) (3)
5. Carleton College (MN) (tie) (8)
5. Middlebury College (VT) (tie) (6)
5. Pomona College (CA) (tie) (6)

Top Public Schools

National Universities — Top 5
1. University of California — Los Angeles (1)
2. University of California — Berkeley (1)
3. University of Virginia (3)
4. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (4)
5. University of California — Santa Barbara (tie)
5. University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill (tie) (5)

National Liberal Arts Colleges — Top 5
1. United States Military Academy (NY) (1)
2. United States Naval Academy (MD) (2)
3. United States Air Force Academy (CO) (3)
4. Virginia Military Institute (4)
5. New College of Florida

Best Value Schools

National Universities — Top 5
1. Princeton University (NJ)
2. Harvard University (MA)
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4. Yale University (CT)
5. Stanford University (CA)

National Liberal Arts Colleges — Top 5
1. Williams College (MA)
2. Pomona College (CA)
3. Amherst College (MA)
4. Swarthmore College (PA)
5. Principia College (IL)

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.

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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