U.S. News rankings: Columbia plummets, Princeton remains at top ahead of MIT

Still weighing reputation heavily, the new list includes mainstays near the top but a lot of publics in the top 40.

Like them or not, the highly anticipated U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings for 2022-23 hit the web Monday morning with very few significant changes, except one.

Columbia University, which was dropped from a tie No. 2 spot in last year’s rankings for submitting incorrect data, plummeted into a tie with the University of Notre Dame at No. 18 in its national university rankings. That opened the door for a few others to move up. Still, none of them could unseat Princeton University, which was named the No. 1 institution in the United States for the 12th consecutive year.

Based on a number of factors, but helped by its 90% graduation rate, its 5 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio and its stout academic faculty and reputation, Princeton University again soared to the top. It nosed out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which finished alone in second this year. Harvard, Stanford, Yale secured a three-way tie for third. Notably, Princeton finished No. 4 recently in the recent Forbes and Washington Monthly rankings. MIT and Stanford were top choices on their lists, respectively.

The rest of the top 10 didn’t see any newcomers, largely because of so many ties again this year. The University of Chicago remained in the No. 6 spot and was joined by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania at No. 7, the California Institute of Technology at No. 9, and Duke University and Northwestern University at No. 10. Speaking of ties, the University of California-Berkeley and UCLA shared No. 1 in the best public institution category, followed by the University of Michigan and University of Virginia … in a tie for third.

Though oft-criticized for its measures of success – and perhaps because it ranks institutions at all – the U.S. News list of leading colleges and universities turned out to be not that much different from its rivals (although Forbes delivered a stunning blow to Harvard at No. 15). Kim Castro, chief content officer at U.S. News noted, “the Best Colleges methodology has continuously evolved to reflect changes in the higher education landscape and the interests of prospective students.”

Perhaps, but there is still one variable that does make U.S. News unique and the targets of barbs, including those recently from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona – the nebulous 20% given to undergraduate academic reputation, based on peer surveys, that is often scrutinized, especially by other rankings agencies. U.S. News stood by the measure.

“Academic reputation matters because it factors things that cannot easily be captured elsewhere,” U.S. News authors noted in the report. “An institution known for having innovative approaches to teaching may perform especially well on this indicator, whereas a school struggling to keep its accreditation will likely perform poorly.”

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Of the more than 4,300 surveys sent out to presidents, provosts and deans of admissions, fewer than 35% responded, although the figure was a little better among national universities at 43.6%. Liberal arts institutions offered the most feedback at nearly 50%. The best ranked among those schools this year were Williams College in Massachusetts, which beat out neighboring Amherst College, and Pomona College in California.

Outcomes were still the biggest factor in this year’s U.S. News rankings. Graduation and retention rates accounted for 22% of the score, while faculty resources (student-faculty ratio, full-time faculty and compensation, among others) factored in another 20%. Other key measures included financial resources for students (10%), graduation rate performance (8%), alumni giving (5%) and social mobility (5%). Selectivity did matter a bit, where 5% was dedicated to standardized test scores and 2% credit was given for admissions of the top 10% of high school students. The only exception was colleges whose reported SAT/ACT numbers totaled less than 50% for the past two years. Instead, they were granted additional weight toward high school class standing and average graduation rate.

The rest of the overall national Top 20 included a couple more Ivy League institutions sandwiched in with a few stout privates – Dartmouth College (No. 12), Brown University and Vanderbilt University (No. 13), Rice University and Washington University in St. Louis (No. 15) – before Columbia got the call in the No. 18 spot. UC-Berkeley and UCLA rounded out the group.

For Columbia, the precipitous fall was not unexpected. After math professor Michael Thaddeus uncovered significant data inaccuracies that saw the university soar from No. 18 to No. 2 last year, U.S. News then pulled the school from its rankings. Columbia has since agreed to comply with the Common Data Set Initiative through the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report, for oversight of its reporting. On Friday, it admitted that its statistics were skewed.

“The Columbia undergraduate experience is and always has been centered around small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty. That fact is unchanged. But anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report — regardless of the size or the reason — is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself,” the university said in a statement. “We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.”

Regardless of the feelings about the worthiness of the rankings, several institutions were quick to post the good news about moving up this year. That included the University of South Florida, which has risen a stunning 52 positions on the public universities list over the past decade to No. 42 and cracked the Top 100 overall at No. 97.

“USF’s standing in the rankings is a testament to the hard work and success of our faculty, staff and students, who make an impact in our communities every day,” said new president Rhea Law. “We will continue to help shape the future for our society as we pursue our goal of becoming a top-25 public university.”

The Top 100 National Universities:

No. 1: Princeton University

No. 2: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

No. 3: Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University

No. 6: University of Chicago

No. 7: Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania

No. 9: California Institute of Technology

No. 10: Duke University, Northwestern University

No. 12: Dartmouth College

No. 13: Brown University, Vanderbilt University

No. 15: Rice University, Washington University in St. Louis

No. 17: Cornell University

No. 18: Columbia University, University of Notre Dame

No. 20: University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles

No. 22: Carnegie Mellon University, Emory University, Georgetown University

No. 25: New York University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Southern California, University of Virginia

No. 29: University of Florida, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University

No. 32: Tufts University, University of California-Santa Barbara

No. 34: University of California-Irvine, University of California-San Diego

No. 36: Boston College, University of Rochester

No. 38: University of California-Davis, University of Texas, Austin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

No. 41: Boston University, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, The College of William & Mary

No. 44: Brandeis University, Case Western Reserve University, Northeastern University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Tulane University

No. 49: The Ohio State University, University of Georgia

No. 51: Lehigh University, Purdue University-West Lafayette, Rensselaer Polytechnic University, Villanova University

No. 55: Florida State University, Pepperdine University, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Santa Clara University, University of Maryland-College Park, University of Miami

No. 62: University of Washington, George Washington University, Syracuse University, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech

No. 67: Texas A&M University, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Yeshiva University

No. 72: American University, Fordham University, Indiana University-Bloomington, North Carolina State University, Southern Methodist University

No. 77: Baylor University, Clemson University, Loyola Marymount University, Michigan State University, Penn State University, Stony Brook University

No. 83: Binghamton University, Gonzaga University, Marquette University, Stevens Institute of Technology, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Iowa

No. 89: Brigham Young University, Colorado School of Mines, Elon University, Howard University, Texas Christian University, University at Buffalo, University of California-Riverside, University of Delaware

No. 97: Auburn University, Clark University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of California-Merced, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Illinois-Chicago, University of San Diego, University of South Florida

Best National Liberal Arts Colleges

No. 1: Williams College (MA)

No. 2: Amherst College (MA)

No. 3: Pomona College (CA)

No. 4: Swarthmore College (PA)

No. 5: Wellesley College (MA)

No. 6: Bowdoin College (MA)

No. 7: Carleton College (MN)

No. 8: U.S. Naval Academy (MD)

No. 9: Claremont McKenna College (CA), U.S. Military Academy (NY)

Best Value Colleges (academic quality plus net cost)

No. 1: Harvard University

No. 2: Princeton University

No. 3: Yale University

No. 4: Stanford University

No. 5: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

No. 6: Rice University

No. 7: Dartmouth College

No. 8: Vanderbilt University

No. 9: Johns Hopkins University

No. 10: California Institute of Technology

Best Historically Black Colleges and Universities

No. 1: Spelman College

No. 2: Howard University

No. 3: Tuskegee University

Best performers on Social Mobility
No. 1: Keiser University
No. 2: University of California-Riverside
No. 3: California State University-Long Beach

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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