Which are the top universities in the U.S.? A new ranking may bring surprises. WSJ's Doug Belkin reveals the rankings on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: AP
Princeton is No. 1, Dartmouth fell out of the top 10 (to number 11) and the three best public liberal arts colleges in America are all military academies.
So says the 2015 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the closely watched annual barometer of academic prestige and achievement that college presidents publicly revile and privately covet.
This year's list comes amid a proliferation of rankings and ratings, as parents and students more closely scrutinize the value of college in the face of rising student debt and a wobbly job market for recent graduates. This fall, the Obama administration is expected to release a draft of a ratings system that may eventually be tied to department of education funding.
Meanwhile, Forbes magazine, the Princeton Review, Washington Monthly Magazine and Kiplinger's Personal Finance are filling the vacuum. Each has jumped into the fray to offer their takes on what makes a school a good deal. U.S. News, the granddaddy of the lists, has responded by adding metrics tracking value, ethnic and economic diversity and a special pullout for the best college for veterans.
Blair Hall on the campus of Princeton University. LightRocket via Getty Images
According to whom you read, Babson College is the best school in America (Money Magazine); or it could be Harvey Mudd (Payscale College ROI Report) or the University of California San Diego (Washington Monthly). Each uses different methodology to come up with their grades.
U.S. News's 30-year-old rankings sort through reams of data for 1,800 schools, ostensibly to help parents and students evaluate their options. University administrators complain the system has warped priorities across higher education as schools jockey to gain favor on the list that can heavily influence the number and quality of applications they receive.
The methodology that makes up the rankings is tweaked year to year. This year, student selectivity counts for 12.5% of a school's total score; faculty resources—including class size and faculty salary—account for 20%; and graduation rates and peer assessment are 22.5% each. A combination of spending on instruction and alumni giving, among others, round out the factors.
Harvard ranked first in the best value category, followed by Princeton and Yale. Among private liberal arts colleges, Williams held on to the No. 1 ranking for the 12th year, followed by Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley and Bowdoin.
U.S. News 2015 Best Colleges Rankings
Best National Universities
1. Princeton University (NJ)
2. Harvard University (MA)
3. Yale University (CT)
4. Columbia University (NY)
4. Stanford University (CA)
4. University of Chicago (IL)
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
8. Duke University (NC)
8. University of Pennsylvania
10. California Institute of Technology
Best National Liberal Arts Colleges
1. Williams College (MA)
2. Amherst College (MA)
3. Swarthmore College (PA)
4. Wellesley College (MA)
5. Bowdoin College (ME)
5. Pomona College (CA)
7. Middlebury College (VT)
8. Carleton College (MN)
8. Claremont McKenna College (CA)
8. Haverford College (PA)
Best Public Schools: National Universities
1. University of California-Berkeley
2. University of California-Los Angeles
2. University of Virginia
4. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
5. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
Best Public Schools: Liberal Arts Colleges
1. United States Naval Academy (MD)
2. United States Military Academy (NY)
3. United States Air Force Academy (CO)
4. Virginia Military Institute
5. New College of Florida
Best Value Schools: National Universities
1. Harvard University (MA)
2. Princeton University (NJ)
3. Yale University (CT)
4. Stanford University (CA)
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Best Value Schools: Liberal Arts Colleges
1. Amherst College (MA)
2. Williams College (MA)
3. Pomona College (CA)
4. Wellesley College (MA)
5. Soka University of America (CA)