NC State jumped five spots on one of the most closely watched rankings of the nation’s colleges and universities today, improving in measures of selectivity, class size and alumni giving. The 2014 “Best Colleges” list, published by U.S. News & World Report, ranks NC State as No. 101 among national universities, up from 106th place last year. NC State ranks 47th among public universities, up from 51st last year.
NC State maintains its position as the fifth best value among public institutions due to its relatively low net cost of attendance. And it makes the list of “up and coming schools” for the second year, tying with Clemson University for eighth place on the list, which is based on peer assessments.
The College of Engineering ranks 32nd nationally (18th among public institutions), with the biological and agricultural engineering program, jointly administered with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, placing fifth nationally.
What They Measure
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. News rankings have little to do with academic quality. An institution’s reputation accounts for 22.5 percent of the score, while factors related to money – such as faculty compensation, financial rank and alumni giving – account for 22 percent. Measures of an institution’s selectivity – such as SAT scores, acceptance rate and high school class standing – account for 12.5 percent.
Measures related to the classroom play a minor role. Faculty-related metrics – such as the percentage of full-time faculty and the percentage of faculty with a terminal degree – account for just 4 percent. Class size accounts for 8 percent, while student-to-faculty ratio accounts for 1 percent. Freshman retention accounts for 4.5 percent.
U.S. News tracks just two outcome measures: an institution’s six-year graduation rate, which accounts for 18 percent, and graduation rate performance, which accounts for 7.5 percent.
Just to keep things interesting, U.S. News changes the weight assigned to various metrics every few years. This year the company reduced the weight assigned to high school class standing and gave slightly more weight to SAT and ACT scores; gave more weight to schools that have a higher-than-expected graduation rate; and reduced the weight assigned to peer assessments.
Higher education leaders have long decried the U.S. News rankings for giving outsized importance to measures of reputation, wealth and selectivity, and by reducing the complex process of choosing a college to a popularity contest.
Ironically, colleges and universities play an essential role in creating and publicizing the list every year. In an odd display of circular logic, universities collect and report factual data and not-so-factual peer assessments to U.S. News, which then organizes the information and sells it back to them and their prospective students. Schools then tout their standing in the ranking as an endorsement of sorts by U.S. News.
A better system may be coming.
President Obama has proposed creating a system to rate colleges and universities based on their value to students, measured by criteria such as average tuition, scholarships, debt after graduation, graduation rates and earnings after graduation, according to the Washington Post.