Princeton Ties Harvard In U.S. News College Rankings

By Staff
August 20, 2009

Harvard University and Princeton University tied for the top spot in the new U.S. News & World Report rankings of America's Best Colleges, marking the tenth straight year that either or both institutions have placed first. Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, placed first among liberal arts colleges.

The ratings, which began in 1983, are based on 15 indicators of academic performance for each college and university. Some of the criteria include graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, financial aid, selectivity and alumni giving. The highest weighted variable is based on a peer assessment survey sent to school officials, asking them to rate other institutions.

While endowments declined significantly in institutions such as Harvard and Princeton this year, the ratings for financial aid were not affected for the U.S. News rankings. The reason, explained Robert Morse, director of data research at U.S. News, is because they used data from fiscal year 2008.

"The impact in our rating isn't going to be this year," he told, "but next year and the year after that."

In an interview with Time, Morse mentioned several institutions that have been making their way up the list, including the University of Southern California.

"One school that's going to surprise people is the University of Maryland-Baltimore County," he added. "It's both a top 'Up and Coming' school and No. 4 in the 'Commitment to Undergraduate Teaching.' That's a school that isn't one of the name brands, but is up there near the top on these two lists, just like George Mason, Northeastern and Drexel are near the top of the 'Up and Coming.'"

Some college presidents have criticized the rankings, saying that students should be determining which school best meets their needs rather than how it ranks on a list. Meanwhile, Inside Higher Ed reported in June that a Clemson University staff member described steps the school took to artificially inflate its ranking, which the school later denied.

But Morse responded that U.S. News regularly takes precautions to avoid such issues; for example, they eliminate the two highest ratings and the two lowest ratings for each school. That way, he told Time, "we have some statistical safeguards to prevent any strategic voting from impacting any school's score. And the fact that the schools' scores have been stable--there's been academic research to show that--is proof in and of itself that schools aren't able to game the scores."

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