Princeton and Williams remain on top of US News’ 2017 Best Colleges

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

U.S. News & World Report the standard-bearers in the national university and college rankings game released the first of two major college and university rankings for the season. On Sept. 13, 2016, US News released their Best Colleges rankings for 2017 online. Princeton, Williams and Berkeley all saw repeat visits to the top of the rankings with Princeton №1 for the fourth year of all Best National Universities, while Williams remains the Best National Liberal Arts College for the past 15 years. Berkeley reined the Top Public Universities as it has for the last 19 years, and the United States Naval Academy is first of the Top Public National Liberal Arts Colleges.

This year there was a shake-up in the top three in both Best National Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges. Most notably in the Best National Universities list, the University of Chicago that moves up one to tie Yale University for the third spot. Columbia and Stanford Universities both dropped one spot to being tied for fourth to tied for fifth. The University of Pennsylvania dropped one spot from eighth to ninth place, while the California Institute of Technology drops out of the top 10 from being tied for 10th place to №12.

The top three Best National Liberal Arts Colleges also remained unchanged with Williams College on top and Amherst in second. The middle of the top changed dramatically with Wellesley College moving up to third, Middlebury College and Swarthmore College tied for fourth and Bowdoin College moving down to sixth. In the second half of the top 10 Carleton College moves up one to seventh place, while formerly fourth place Pomona College drops three to seventh. The only public school United States Naval Academy dropped out of the top 10 from ninth to 12th place.

In the lists of best public schools, University of California-Berkeley was named the Top Public University for the 19th year in a row, and the United States Naval Academy named Top public Liberal Arts College. 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 were profiled with 1,374 ranked.

Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News, commented on the value of the rankings to help with college choice decision making. Kelly explained, “I encourage parents and students to use the wealth of data and information in Best Colleges to identify schools that suit their specific needs. In addition to considering factors like location and cost, families should pay close attention to graduation and retention rates. These are important indicators of how well a school supports its students both academically and financially. Getting into a good school means nothing if you cannot graduate.”

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. This year US News used the “2015 update” which caused 12 percent of the schools in the ranking to change categories.

US News Best Colleges’ methodology involves looking at over 1,800 universities and colleges to create their four rankings; the results are determined by “15 measures of academic quality,” taken from the Common Data Set. The Best Colleges lists rely heavily on “student outcomes” predominantly “graduation and retention rates” which represent 30 percent of the deciding factor in the ranking.

The US News rankings guidebook and companion website include over 50 ranking lists. This year the methodology was slightly altered when it came to one factor, class size, in the past the ranking included two metrics involving class size, now there is just one. The methodology US News uses benefits private universities, and the rubrics are “based on school reputation surveys; student selectivity; faculty resources; alumni giving; graduation and retention rates; and total spending per student on education.” In contrast public universities “rely heavily on state funding, often have tighter budgets, far larger enrollment and a broader mandate for accessibility than private institutions.”

Best National Universities

1 Princeton University (NJ) (1)
2 Harvard University (MA) (2)
3 University of Chicago (IL) (4)
3 Yale University (CT) (3)
5 Columbia University (NY) (4)
5 Stanford University (CA) (4)
7 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (7)
8 Duke University (NC) (8)
8 University of Pennsylvania (9)
10 Johns Hopkins University (MD) (10)

Best National Liberal Arts Colleges

1 Williams College (MA) (1)
2 Amherst College (MA) (2)
3 Wellesley College (MA) (4)
4 Middlebury College (VT) (4)
4 Swarthmore College (PA) (4)
6 Bowdoin College (ME) (4)
7 Carleton College (MN) (8)
7 Pomona College (CA) (4)
9 Claremont McKenna College (CA) (9)
9 Davidson College (NC) (9)

Top Public Schools

National Universities
1 University of California-Berkeley
2 University of California-Los Angeles
3 University of Virginia
4 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
5 University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Liberal Arts Colleges

1 United States Naval Academy (MD)
2 United States Military Academy (NY)
3 United States Air Force Academy (CO)
4 New College of Florida
4 Virginia Military Institute

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 where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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