Faith-based schools fell dozens of spots on this year’s best colleges list. What happened?
U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of colleges and universities across the country has become increasingly controversial
U.S. News & World Report released its latest college rankings Monday, and the list held bad news for many faith-based schools.
As a result of changes made to ranking metrics, schools like Brigham Young University fell more than two dozen spots over the past year, ending up behind institutions they once comfortably outranked.
- On last year’s national list, BYU ranked 89th. Now, it’s No. 115.
- Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City, fell 38 spots, from 67 to 105.
- Pepperdine University in California, which is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, came in at No. 76 this year, down from 55.
- Loyola University Chicago, a Catholic school, fell from 115 to 142.
The large shifts were driven by U.S. News & World Report’s new formula for calculating rankings, which puts a bigger focus on postgraduate outcomes and deemphasizes factors like class size. Private schools appear to be suffering under the new system, according to The Washington Post.
“Many public universities rose in the undergraduate rankings U.S. News & World Report released Monday, while many private ones fell — a sign not of their changing quality but of the changing formula,” the Post reported.
Shifts of 10, 20 or even 50 spots were common this year.
“More than a dozen public universities, many of them with relatively low profiles, climbed at least 50 spots in the rankings,” The New York Times reported.
Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, is among those who have criticized U.S. News & World Report for making disruptive, confusing changes.
“It is ludicrous on its face that an individual institution could rise or fall by dozens of spots on a college rankings list in a single year,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
In their own statement, leaders at U.S. News & World Report defended the formula changes, arguing that their organization is working hard to “capture what is most important for students.”
The statement explained that “the rankings now put much more emphasis on outcomes such as graduation rates, postgraduate earnings, borrower debt and the success of students of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” according to The Washington Post.
Changes to U.S. News & World Report best college rankings
Like the statement provided to The Washington Post, these articles defend the changes, noting that U.S. News & World Report was aiming to take advantage of data that wasn’t widely available in the past.
“A great deal of data is available to the public and U.S. News that was not available for most of our Best Colleges rankings’ history. For the 2024 edition, we replaced input measures that schools did not universally report and, in some cases, were not as frequently used by schools,” one article said.
Some schools that were negatively affected by the changes have released their own articles explaining U.S. News & World Report’s new approach.
For example, Pepperdine pointed out the shift away from factors like class size, which had long helped the school’s ranking.
“The value U.S. News historically placed on the quality of education experience, small class sizes and engaged teaching, which are some of Pepperdine’s greatest strengths, has shifted toward factors that favor institutions which place a much larger emphasis on research,” Pepperdine wrote.
College ranking controversy
This year’s “Best Colleges” list, with its large rankings shifts, fanned the flames of a controversy that has been steadily burning for years.
In recent months, several law schools and medical schools, as well as Columbia University’s undergraduate program, have announced they’ll no longer cooperate with U.S. News & World Report, as The Washington Post reported.
“The project of creating a unitary ranking of the nation’s 200 law schools that functions like sports standings sows more misunderstanding than clarity for prospective law students,” argued Matthew Diller, dean of Fordham University’s School of Law, in a January 2023 letter announcing the school’s decision to no longer participate in the U.S. News rankings.
Although some critics have applauded U.S. News & World Report for trying to put more emphasis on how well schools serve underprivileged students, many continue to believe that the rankings process causes more harm than good.
“It doesn’t ease my concerns, which is why we haven’t rejoined,” said L. Song Richardson, the president of Colorado College, to The New York Times about Monday’s list. Like Columbia, Colorado College no longer actively participates in the rankings process.