2019 U.S. News & World Report College Rankings

The 2019 edition of the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings was released in September to the usual media fanfare. Much attention is accorded this annual publication because the U.S. News rankings are the most commonly used as a reference by high school students searching for the right college to attend.

There area number of other college rankings that are published by equally respected sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Money, Kiplinger’s, Forbes, Princeton Review, New York Times, and Washington Monthly. Keep in mind that all such rankings have limitations. You should use the U.S. News and the other rankings as information, not holy writ. As U.S. News discloses in the introduction to their Best Colleges edition:

The host of intangibles that makes up the college experience can’t be measured by a series of data points. But for families concerned with finding the best academic experience for their children, the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings provide an excellent starting point for the search.

College rankings can be useful to high achieving students and their families as they begin to research elite colleges and universities. US News is a quick, easy-to-use reference that includes extensive information about institutions of higher learning in the U.S. It also includes links to relevant websites and reference sources. The U.S. News rankings are so influential in academia that some institutions establish strategic goals based on rising in them.

For this year’s rankings computations, U.S. News modified the methodology to award extra weight to the enrollment and graduation of more students from low-income families. This was done to remedy past critiques asserting that the rankings promote economic inequality on campuses. The new methodology counters the perceived flaw that the rankings created an incentive for schools to favor wealthier applicants over less wealthy ones.

The algorithm that determines a school’s score now includes indicators meant to measure social mobility. It drops an acceptance rate metric that benefited schools that declined admission to a high percentage of students. U.S. News says the changes are based on extensive discussions with college admissions officials. The social mobility indicator relies on newly available Federal data. It’s a small but important change in the methodology, one that may discourage institutions from trying to manipulate the rankings.

The adoption of the new methodology hasn’t produced significant changes at the top of the rankings. Table A, below, compares the US News results for the top 10 institutions in the 2019rankings for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, with ties indicated. The 2019 rankings are compared to 2018.

Table A: Top Ten National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges

National Universities National Liberal Arts Colleges
# 2019 # 2018 # 2019 # 2018
1 Princeton 1 Princeton 1 Williams 1 Williams
2 Harvard 2 Harvard 2 Amherst 2 Amherst
3 Columbia 3 Chicago 3 Swarthmore 3 Wellesley
3 MIT 3 Yale 3 Wellesley 3 Bowdoin
3 Chicago 5 Columbia 5 Bowdoin 5 Swarthmore
3 Yale 5 Stanford 5 Carleton 5 Middlebury
7 Stanford 5 MIT 5 Middlebury 5 Pomona
8 Duke 8 UPenn 5 Pomona 8 Carleton
8 Penn 9 Duke 9 ClaremontMcKenna 9 ClaremontMcKenna
10 John Hompkins 10 Caltech 10 Davidson 10 Davidson

In National Universities, Princeton and Harvard remain first and second, but there are now four schools, Columbia, MIT, Chicago, and Yale, tied for third place instead of three last year. MIT dropped from third to fifth. Stanford moved down one rank to seven. Penn stayed at eight, but Duke moved up from nine to tie Penn at eight. Johns Hopkins replaced Caltech as tenth on the list.

For the tenth consecutive year, Williams is ranked first among National Liberal Arts Colleges, with Amherst second. Swarthmore and Wellesley tied at third. Bowdoin College, Middlebury College, Carleton College, and Pomona College tied at fifth. Rounding out the top ten were ClaremontMcKenna at nine and Davidson at ten. Aside from some reshuffling, there were no changes in the colleges that comprised the top ten.

This is the first year that U.S. News has provided postgraduate salary information on 1,000 institutions. The data, provided by PayScale, shows median starting salaries for graduates with zero to five years of work experience. For example, graduates of the California Institute of Technology started at more than $78,000 per annum. Salary information was not used as a factor in determining the rankings, which are based on academic excellence, graduation rates, faculty resources, freshman retention rates, and a number of others factors.

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