U.S. News Rankings Renew Debate as Berkeley Slips

Once again, U.S. News and World Report has issued its own rankings of America's colleges and universities.

The magazine's annual rankings based on its evaluation of the "quality of undergraduate education" appear in the Sept. 18 issue, which arrived at newsstands Sept. 11.

Berkeley dropped three places to 26th among national research institutions. Harvard topped the list followed by Princeton and Yale in a tie for second place. Stanford was fourth and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology rounded out the top five.

Among public universities, the University of Virginia was ranked 19th, followed by Michigan at 24. UCLA was 28th, UC Davis 40, UC San Diego 43 and UC Irvine 48.

The magazine's rankings are always of interest, but their value is often debated.

"Clearly, U.S. News favors private institutions in its methodology. The fact that Berkeley has dropped out of the top 25 is troublesome," Lisa Baker, the University of Michigan's associate vice president for university relations told the Ann Arbor News.

"By most measures, Berkeley and Harvard are regarded as two of the top universities in the world. It calls the methodology into question," she said.

In fact, although Berkeley's overall score in the ranking has plummeted in recent years, its ranking for academic reputation has remained consistently high. This year it is fourth. Only Harvard, Stanford and MIT scored higher for academic excellence.

If this seems incongruous, that may be because of what goes into the overall score, as well as the fact that the magazine has regularly changed the yardstick it uses to determine its overall rankings.

Every year since 1988, U.S. News has modified the model it uses to rank universities. So it becomes impossible to compare the ranking of Berkeley--or any other university--to the rankings from the previous year.

The U.S. News ranking scheme is composed of six broad factors: Academic reputation, student selectivity, faculty resources, financial resources, graduation/retention rate, and alumni satisfaction.

Last year, when Berkeley dropped from 19th to 23rd, it was largely because U.S. News decided for the first time to adjust faculty salaries for cost of living.

This year, Berkeley's drop appears attributable to two factors.

A change in the U.S. News model gave less weight to student selectivity--where Berkeley, with its top-flight students always scores extremely high--and more weight to graduation/retention rate, which benefits private institutions, but hurts the public campuses.

Secondly, a drop in the ranking of what the magazine calls alumni satisfaction, hurt.

U.S. News determines alumni satisfaction based on the percentage of all living undergraduate alumni who gave to their school's annual fund drive the previous year. Berkeley, despite its record $156 million in private giving last year, dropped in this category to 172nd out of 204 national research universities.

Anne Machung, a senior policy analyst in the Office of Institutional Research, contributed to this report.


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