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Ranking Methodology

So, Dr. Matthew Lynch, what methodology did you use to compile your rankings?

That’s a great question, and thankfully I have a great answer. When I began looking at universities in fall 1995 (my senior year), I had no one to help guide me through the college search process. I was a minority, first-generation college student, from an impoverished background, trying to make my way in the world. I didn’t know about U.S. News and World Report, and the other publications that produce rankings and articles that are intended to help students and their parents navigate the college search process.

Thoughts of my college search have inspired me to produce rankings of the best bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree programs and also the best colleges and universities in America. No gimmicks, no bells, and whistles, just accurate rankings backed up by critical academic quality indicators and quantitative/qualitative data. I want to help as many people as I can to navigate the college search process. Hopefully, I can be the guide that I never had. Now let’s discuss our ranking methodology.

 

Best College and University Programs Lists

To compile our Best Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate Programs Lists, we used the following ranking methodology and weights:

Academic Quality of Program (25%)- Students want to attend a university program that is rigorous and backed up by the best pedagogical practices. To measure quality, we analyzed factors including graduation rate, retention rate, the strength of faculty, and curriculum. These components were found in government databases, specifically the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Quality also takes into consideration admission rate, and when applicable, standardized test results. These factors are first ranked individually before combining them on a weighted scale. This method is also applied to the other categories.

Accreditation status of the university and its degree programs (15%)- Accreditation is a regional or national stamp of approval and is an affirmation that the school’s educational programs meet quality standards. A university may seek accreditation for its overall academic program, but it doesn’t stop there. Colleges/schools and their departments/programs must also become accredited. For instance, a college/school of education worth its salt will seek CAEP accreditation, and its departments/programs will also seek accreditation via CAEP. Ultimately, accreditation can assure potential students that the university and its programs are respected. To even be considered for one of our lists, the university, and the program in question must be accredited. We verify this information by cross-checking the universities website against the records of national, regional, state and program accreditation agencies.

Program Reputation (10%)- Students want to attend a university program that is respected throughout the nation. Good, bad or ugly, every university program has a reputation that precedes it. To factor in reputation, we consider the programs ranking according to other high-quality ranking sources. Whenever available and applicable, we also incorporate data from industry-specific journals and rankings, such as the National Council on Teacher Quality for education-related degrees, and Financial Times for business degrees.

Affordability and Access (10%)- How much does it cost to attend this program? How does the cost of attendance stack up with that of its peer institutions? Is there a cheaper yet comparable alternative? Considering the rising cost of higher education, it’s essential to incorporate the cost of a degree in our rankings. To do so, we investigate the following criteria: Net Price according to school information, and when available, Percentage of Financial Aid Given and Average Student Loan Size. We use IPEDS to retrieve this information, though when available, we supplement it with self-reported numbers from individual college websites. Does the institution provide access to people from all walks of life and not just the elite? We gathered information about access directly from the universities website, and in some cases, other high-quality sources.

Faculty and staff resources (15%)- Do the faculty and staff have the resources that they need to do their jobs and help students matriculate? Or are faculty and staff continually fighting for scarce resources? When students need help with a term paper or math problem, where can they turn to for help? Is there a dedicated writing or tutorial center where students can get help? Or are they left to their own devices, and forced to figure it out? Believe or not, students must figure things out for themselves at a lot of universities. Student support is nonexistent. You are your own. We perform an exhaustive check of the universities website to find out what type of faculty and student support the university and its schools, colleges, and departments provide.

Student selectivity (10%)- Are there standards of excellence that students need to meet to gain admission, or can anyone attend the program? Most students want to choose a university program that has high academic standards and is selective in their admission’s process. Who would want to attend a university program that anyone that graduated from high school can attend? We used university and online sources to locate each programs acceptance rate, which is its rate of selectivity.

Employer and student success surveys (15%)- University departments send out employer success surveys to gauge how well their graduates are faring in the workforce. If the program did an excellent job of preparing their students for their perspective fields, then it will be reflected in the surveys. Also, university departments send surveys out to students to find out how well students feel their programs prepared them for the workforce. We search for this information online first, and if we can’t find it, we contact the program in question.

 

Best Colleges and Universities Lists

To compile our Best Colleges and Universities lists, we used the following ranking methodology and weights:

Affordability and access (5%)- How much does it cost to attend this institution? How does the cost of attendance stack up with that of its peer institutions? Is there a cheaper yet comparable alternative? Considering the rising cost of higher education, it’s essential to incorporate the cost of a degree in our rankings. To do so, we investigate the following criteria: Net Price according to school information, and when available, Percentage of Financial Aid Given and Average Student Loan Size. We use IPEDS to retrieve this information, though when available, we supplement it with self-reported numbers from individual college websites. Does the institution provide access to people from all walks of life and not just the elite? We gathered information about access directly from the universities website, and in some cases, other high-quality sources.

Graduation/retention rate (25%)- I don’t know about you, but I measure the success of a university with student outcomes, and the most critical student outcome is graduation rate. Simply put, with all the resources that you have, what percentage of your students graduate on time? I mean, if a school has not proven that it can help students graduate on time, then it is not doing its job. If an institution’s graduation rate is below 80%, it’s a red flag. In the same vein, paying attention to an institution’s retention rate is equally as important. A university’s retention rate is the percentage of students who choose to return to the university in any given year. If an institution’s retention rate is below 90%, it’s a red flag. We use IPEDS to retrieve this information, though when available, we supplement it with self-reported numbers from individual college websites.

Reputation (10%)- Good, bad or ugly, every university has a reputation that precedes it. There is enough quantitative and qualitative available on the web about the reputation of every university in the world. One only need to perform a cursory Google search to find this information. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that we found out while compiling our lists. To factor in reputation, we consider the universities ranking according to other high-quality ranking sources. Whenever available and applicable, we also incorporate data from industry-specific journals and rankings, such as the National Council on Teacher Quality for education-related degrees, and Financial Times for business degrees.

Faculty and staff resources (15%)- Do the faculty and staff have the resources that they need to do their jobs and help students matriculate? Or are faculty and staff continually fighting for scarce resources? When students need help with a term paper or math problem, where can they turn to for help? Is there a dedicated writing or tutorial center where students can get help? Or are they left to their own devices, and forced to figure it out? Believe or not, students must figure things out for themselves at a lot of universities. Student support is nonexistent. You are your own. We perform an exhaustive check of the universities website to find out what type of faculty and student support the university and its schools, colleges, and departments provide.

Student selectivity (10%)- Are there standards of excellence that students need to meet to gain admission, or can anyone attend the institution? Most students want to choose a university that has high academic standards and is selective in their admission’s process. Who would want to attend a university that anyone that graduated from high school can attend? We used university and online sources to locate a university’s acceptance rate, which is its rate of selectivity.

Financial resources (10%)- Is your university financially solvent? I mean does it have a healthy endowment, and enough assets on hand to cover its expenses? Or is it constantly borrowing monies from the endowment and moving cash around just to make payroll? Although this information is harder to find online, there are a ton of signs. How comparable is their endowment to other institutions their size? What assets does the university currently possess? Are faculty and staff continually complaining about a lack of resources? We use IPEDS to retrieve this information, though when available, we supplement it with self-reported numbers from individual college websites.

Accreditation status of the university and its degree programs (10%)- Accreditation is a regional or national stamp of approval and is an affirmation that the school’s educational programs meet quality standards. A university may seek accreditation for its overall academic program, but it doesn’t stop there. Colleges/schools and their departments/programs must also become accredited. For instance, a college/school of education worth its salt will seek CAEP accreditation, and its departments/programs will also seek accreditation via CAEP. Ultimately, accreditation can assure potential students that the university and its colleges are respected. To even be considered for one of our lists, the university, and its programs must be accredited. We verify this information by cross-checking the universities website against the records of national, regional, state and program accreditation agencies.

Employer and student success surveys (10%)- University departments send out employer success surveys to gauge how well their graduates are faring in the workforce. If the university did an excellent job of preparing their students for their perspective fields, then it will be reflected in the surveys. Also, university departments send surveys out to students to find out how well students feel their programs prepared them for the workforce. We search for this information online first, and if we can’t find it, we contact the institution or program in question.

Alumni giving and engagement (5%)- One way that colleges generate revenue is through alumni giving. Simply put, they ask students who either attended or graduated from the institution to donate money, materials or time towards the universities mission. If former students had great experiences and received a great return on their investment (time and tuition), then they usually leap at the chance to give back. But if they left the university with a worthless degree and no employment prospects, bitterness may cause them to ignore their universities requests. We visit the universities website to find out their alumni giving rate and dollar amount. If we can’t find it online, we contact the universities Office of Institutional Advancement directly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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