The American news and world report has thoroughly revised its college-ranking formula this year, with more emphasis being placed on social mobility and less on exclusivity in admissions, a change that has disrupted its lists of top universities and universities on Monday.
Two schools continued their long runs on top of the rankings: Princeton University was the number 1 national university for the eighth consecutive year and Williams College was the largest liberal art academy for the 16th year in a row.
National universities place a great emphasis on research and reward bachelor's, master's and doctoral titles. Liberal art academies are focused on undergraduate education.
To rank schools, US News collects and analyzes data from reputational surveys along with information on graduation numbers, faculty sources, academic references from students, alumni and other factors. Critics have long argued that the formula relies too much on prestige and wealth, and not enough on the value that schools add to society.
Other publications have appeared in the rankings business, but U.S. News remains a leader in the field. Colleague presidents, trustees, alumni, teachers and students keep the ups and downs of the American news lists on hand. Often it is just about bragging rights. But in the academic world, hierarchies determined by rankings can be the market for teachers and students.
This year, the US news covered the admission rates of the formula – a measure that helps schools that are not ultra-selective – and has added data on the graduation rate for students in financial distress receiving federal Pell grants.
"A university is unsuccessful if it does not graduate from its students, which is why Best Colleges rankings give the greatest value to results, including graduation and retention rates," said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. "By incorporating social mobility indicators, US News recognizes colleges that serve all their students, regardless of economic status."
On both lists was the top 20 with many famous names from the past.
Harvard University is in second place on the national university list, followed by four schools affiliated to third place: the Columbia and Yale universities, the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On the list of liberal art, the Amherst College was in second place, the lectures Swarthmore and Wellesley were for the third and the Bowdoin, Carleton, Middlebury and Pomona were colleges for the fifth.
But the new method produced a lot of fermentation.
The University of California in Los Angeles ranks 19th and places it for the first time on the flagship campus of the state, Berkeley (22nd). The University of California at Santa Barbara moved seven places and secured the 30th with New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The two national universities in the top 100 of this year that went up the most were the University of California at Riverside and Howard University, a prominent historic black institution in the nation's capital. Both serve a large number of underprivileged students. At UC-Riverside, Pell's share in students is more than half, and Howard is nearly half of that.
UC-Riverside jumped 39 places on the US news list to 85, affiliated with Michigan State University and the University of San Diego.
Howard climbed from 21 to 89.
"It will take time to turn decades of respect back into traditional institutional quality assumptions," said Kim A. Wilcox, Chancellor of UC-Riverside, in a statement. "I find it encouraging that more university ranking systems are beginning to recognize diversity, social mobility and study success as a hallmark of what makes a great university – as opposed to exclusivity and wealth as primary measures."
Five years ago, Howard was in 142th place. The leap to the top 100 is a boost for a university that has conducted federal research into cash flow due to concerns about decline in the management of financial aid.
Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick called the higher rankings "a proud moment for all of us".
Frederick said it validates the university's attempt to improve student retention and graduation. The four-year graduation mark recently surpassed the 50 percent, he said, a significant increase. The ranking "says a lot about what we did and the journey we started," he said, "which is steady progress and is focused on student results."
While some universities climbed, others fell back. Three well-known D.C. schools fell on the list: Georgetown University two places, up to and including 22; George Washington University seven spots, up to 63rd; and American University nine places, to 78th.
Among universities in Maryland and Virginia, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore sharpened a spot, to 10th national. The University of Virginia became 25th, unchanged, and the College of William & Mary became 38th, sixth. The University of Maryland at College Park dropped two slots, which tied with GWU at 63rd. Virginia Tech was 76th, the seventh place.