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Here comes another best-colleges ranking: U.S. News & World Report’s

What a difference a day or two can make in college and university rankings. On Tuesday, my blog ran a Christian Science Monitor story about a college-rating system from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that flunked Yale for its relative lack of general-education requirements. The organization rates schools on the degree to which they require the study of seven core subjects.

Further checking found that Minnesota liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Macalester, frequently the darlings of national rankings, received D’s on the core-curriculum front. Minnesota’s highest grade was a B and it went to three institutions: University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Olaf College and the University of St. Thomas.

But U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges 2011” rankings are just out, and in this overall assessment Yale is No. 3 behind Harvard (No. 1) and Princeton in the national university ranking. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities tied for 64th with four other institutions.  

The magazine’s national liberal arts college ranking was much kinder to Minnesota’s darlings: Carleton came in eighth and Macalester 26th. Other rankings in the top 100: St. Olaf (No. 51); St. John’s (No. 62); Gustavus Adolphus (No. 79) and College of St. Benedict (No. 81).

The Associated Press reports that greater weight was given to graduation rates this year than in the past. Among other 16 factors in the scores are retention rates, SAT scores and selectivity. High-school guidance counselors’ rankings also were included this year.

One of the interesting categories is “A+ Options for B Students.” Rankings are divided by region, and Minnesota has a handful of institutions on the Midwest list: Hamline University (No. 9), Bethel University and St. Catherine University (tied for 17th), College of St. Scholastica (No. 24) and U of M-Duluth (No. 34).

The U.S. News’ ranking, which looked at more than 1,400 accredited schools, is the “most closely watched” list, according to the Associated Press. The ranking is “credited for helping students and parents sort through a dizzying college selection process but criticized by those who say it’s too arbitrary and pressures colleges to boost scores at the expense of teaching.”

One category looks at which institutions have the best undergraduate teaching. Carleton College placed first, Macalester seventh, and St. Olaf ninth on the national liberal-arts-colleges list; also on the list: the College of St. Benedict (25th) and St. John’s University (34th). Augsburg College placed sixth in the regional Midwest ranking.

In another category, U.S. News “asked the experts who respond to our annual peer assessment survey to identify institutions in their U.S. News ranking category that are making the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty, and student life.” The College of St. Benedict ranked third in this “Up and Coming” category among national liberal arts colleges. 

Readers: How have best-college rankings influenced your decisions on which colleges to choose?

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/18/2010 - 09:27 am.

    How to use rankings…

    Ultimately, it is the data behind the rankings that is important. Unfortunately, US News this year is not giving the data, only the numerical rankings. To get the actual numbers you have to pay for the premium edition or buy the magazine. This is too bad.

    The basic problem with rankings is that they are based on a number of factors weighted in some way by the system to come up with a score that is then rank ordered from top to bottom.

    Suppose you were interested in deciding whether to shop at Lunds or Cub. Best Groceries might do a ranking with the factors of interest: variety, quality, parking, price. And let’s say Best Groceries ranking is #1 Lunds, #2 Cub. But if what is most important to you is price and Cub is lower, you might use the info to make your own decision about where to shop, Cub!

    So, let’s suppose you think that graduation rate, debt at graduation, good academic reputation, and a good college experience are important factors to you. Use the data in the rankings to select the schools of interest. Visit them – when school is in session – sit in on some classes and ask the students currently enrolled what they think.

    Rankings are ephemeral, an education is not.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 08/18/2010 - 09:30 am.

    I suspect that the ACTA ratings reflect the fact that many institutions pre-suppose sufficient competence in / prior exposure to the core areas with which they are concerned, given the highly competitive nature of their admission processes. How many 4.0 students with ACT or SAT scores in the 99th percentile are going to be deficient in these areas?

    As for the use of college ratings: they’re only useful to the extent that the applicant has a realistic prospect of admission and the resources to attend once accepted. I know of many who will be attending lower ranked and/or less preferred schools due to the lack of sufficient funds.

  3. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 08/18/2010 - 12:31 pm.

    Rankings played a small part, but we looked at them. I’m not sure how objective any of them are. But my daughter went to what was the second cheapest university of the top 100 for her as a resident of Minnesota. (Because of reciprocity, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was slightly cheaper and Brigham Young was out of the question because of religion.) To me, it was just as important to not strap my child with $200,000 worth of debt at age 22 as it was to see she got a first-rate education. As it is, we’ve managed to scrimp and save enough to pay for her undergraduate degree so she can burden herself with the costs of graduate school.

    Some of this is nonsense. Do you really think that Harvard provides that much more of an exceptional education than say Stanford?

  4. Submitted by Ron Salzberger on 08/18/2010 - 03:27 pm.

    There is a book, a foundation, and a list that are quite helpful. They’re all called “Colleges That Change Lives.” The list can be found at The schools that are mentioned here are listed because of how their students get on at these places, what the schools have done for them (by way of employment, professional reputations, graduate degrees, etc.) rather than in terms of what the students brought to begin with or the exclusivity of their selection process, etc.

  5. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 08/18/2010 - 03:53 pm.

    Monday I discovered The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), that has been done in China for some years now. They rank 500 or more universities around the world on published criteria.

    And they rank by departments too. Minnesota has four departments ranked in the top 15: Math, Economics and Business, Medicine & Pharmacy and the Social Sciences. That last one kind of surprises me.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/18/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    Can you list the “seven core subjects?” Thanks.

  7. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/18/2010 - 05:36 pm.


    You want to be a little careful using the Shanghai Rankings. I’ve posted on this a couple of times. The basic problem is that they give credit in their rankings to some pretty strange stuff – like Nobel prize winners, now dead, associated with the universities being ranked. Let’s just say there is some unhappiness with the Shanghai rankings in the international community. If you’d like a little more information, please see:

    (Latest Shanghai Rankings – Let the Spin Begin)

    You might wonder why a Chinese operation should be believed over USNews. Especially when their rankings are so suspicious:

    Universities ranking lower than the U of M in the latest results from Shanghai:

    Northwestern [sic]
    Duke [sic]
    North Carolina
    Penn State
    Carnegie Mellon [!]

    Ancestor worship is still apparently alive, well, and practiced in Shanghai.

  8. Submitted by Casey Selix on 08/19/2010 - 02:17 pm.

    In response to Bernice’s Vetsch’s query, the seven core subjects are composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural or physical science.

    This link will take you to a detailed explanation of the criteria.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 08/19/2010 - 02:49 pm.

    Thanks for the list. I find it hard to believe that ANY U.S. college isn’t strong in all seven.

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