Williams is #1 in the US News ranking, for the 15th year in a row.

Two schools have a lock on No. 1: Princeton University topped the U.S. News national university list for the seventh straight year, and Williams College led the liberal arts list for the 15th straight year.

Every time that we appear in a sentence like this (with Princeton!), the better for our brand. (And if you find that notion of the College’s “brand” to be distasteful, you are a child. Parents will not pay a quarter million dollars for something with a less-than-amazing reputation.)

1) We did a detailed dive into the rankings last year. Should we revisit? If so, I would need someone to send me the underlying data. See here and here for previous discussions.

2) Kudos to Adam Falk, and the rest of the Williams administration. Maintaining the #1 ranking is important, especially for recruiting students who are less rich, less well-educated and less American. There is no better way to get a poor (but really smart) kid from Los Angeles (or Singapore) to consider Williams than to highlight that we are the best college in the country.

3) Many schools do a lot of suspect/sleazy things to improve their rank. Does Williams? Morty, infamously, capped discussion class size at 19 to ensure that the maximum number of classes met this US News cut-off.

4) There is a great senior thesis to be written about the rankings, similar to this article on the US News law school rankings. If you write such a thesis, hundreds of people around the country will read it.

5) Any comments on changes in the rankings below us?

6) Below the break is a copy of the methodology, saved for the benefit of future historians.

Data Sources

Most colleges report the data directly to U.S. News. This year, 92 percent of the 1,388 ranked colleges and universities surveyed returned their statistical information during the spring and summer 2017 data collection window.

For quality assurance, rankings data that schools reported to U.S. News were automatically compared against previous years’ submissions and, in some cases, against third-party sources. Respondents were given the opportunity to review, revise and verify any flagged data.

In total, U.S. News has collected data on more than 1,800 colleges. While all the data appear on usnews.com, only 1,388 schools are included in the rankings described in this methodology and given a numerical rank.

We obtained missing data from the Council for Aid to Education (alumni giving rates) and the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (information on financial resources, faculty, SAT and ACT admissions test scores, acceptance rates and six-year graduation and first-year retention rates).

U.S. News uses estimates, which are not displayed, in the ranking calculation when schools fail to report ranking indicator data points that are not available from other sources. Missing data are reported as N/A in the ranking tables on usnews.com.

For colleges that were eligible to be ranked but refused to fill out the U.S. News statistical survey in spring and summer 2017, U.S. News has made extensive use of the statistical data those institutions were required to report to the National Center for Education Statistics, including such factors as SAT and ACT scores, acceptance rates, number of faculty, student-faculty ratios, and six-year graduation and first-year retention rates. These schools are footnoted as nonresponders.

Ranking Model Indicators

The indicators used to capture academic quality fall into a number of categories: graduation and first-year student retention rates, assessment by administrators at peer institutions, faculty resources, admissions selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, graduation rate performance and, for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges only, high school counselor ratings of colleges.

Collectively, the indicators include input measures that reflect a school’s student body, its faculty and its financial resources, along with outcome measures that signal how well the institution educates students.

The amount of weight assigned to each ranking indicator is unchanged from the previous edition. The measures, their weights in the ranking formula and an explanation of each follow.

Graduation and retention rates (22.5 percent): The higher the proportion of first-year students who return to campus for sophomore year and eventually graduate, the better a school is apt to be at offering the classes and services that students need to succeed.

This measure has two components: six-year graduation rate (80 percent of the score) and first-year retention rate (20 percent). The graduation rate indicates the average proportion of a graduating class earning a degree in six years or less; we consider first-year student classes that started from fall 2007 through fall 2010. First-year retention indicates the average proportion of first-year students who entered the school in fall 2012 through fall 2015 and returned the following fall.

Undergraduate academic reputation (22.5 percent): The U.S. News ranking formula gives weight to the opinions of those in a position to judge a school’s undergraduate academic excellence. The academic peer assessment survey allows top academics – presidents, provosts and deans of admissions – to account for intangibles at peer institutions, such as faculty dedication to teaching.

To get another set of important opinions on National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, U.S. News also surveyed 2,200 counselors at public high schools, each of which was a gold, silver or bronze medal winner in the 2016 edition of the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings. The counselors surveyed represent every state and the District of Columbia.

Each academic and counselor surveyed was asked to rate schools’ academic programs on a scale from 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished). Those who didn’t know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark “don’t know.”

The score used in the rankings is the average score of those who rated the school on the 5-point scale; “don’t knows” are not counted as part of the average. To reduce the impact of strategic voting by respondents, U.S. News eliminated the two highest and two lowest scores each school received before calculating the average score.

The academic peer assessment score in this year’s rankings is based on the results from surveys in spring 2016 and spring 2017.

Both the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges rankings rely on one assessment score, by the academic peer group, for this measure in the rankings formula. In the case of National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, the academic peer assessment accounts for 15 percentage points of the weighting in the ranking methodology, and 7.5 percentage points go to the high school counselors’ ratings.

The results from the three most recent years of counselor surveys – from spring 2015, spring 2016 and spring 2017 – were averaged to compute the high school counselor reputation score. This was done to increase the number of ratings each college received from the high school counselors and to reduce the year-to-year volatility in the average counselor score.

Ipsos Public Affairs collected the data in spring 2017. Of the 4,608 academics who were sent questionnaires, 40.4 percent responded. This response rate is up very slightly from the 39 percent response rate in spring 2016 and the 40 percent response rate to the surveys conducted in spring 2015.

The counselors’ one-year response rate was 7 percent for the spring 2017 surveys, down slightly from 9 percent in spring 2016.

Schools that received less than a total of 10 ratings from high school counselors in this three-year period are not numerically ranked in this one factor but received an estimated high school counselor score for ranking purposes in the 2018 Best Colleges rankings. Their high school counselor score is listed as N/A.

Faculty resources (20 percent): Research shows that the more satisfied students are about their contact with professors, the more they will learn and the more likely they are to graduate. U.S. News uses five factors from the 2016-2017 academic year to assess a school’s commitment to instruction.

Class size is 40 percent of this measure. Schools receive the most credit in this index for the proportion of their fall 2016 undergraduate classes with fewer than 20 students. Classes with 20-29 students score second highest, 30-39 students third highest and 40-49 students fourth highest. Classes that have 50 or more students receive no credit.

Faculty salary (35 percent) is the average faculty pay, plus benefits, during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years, adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living using indexes from the consulting firm Runzheimer International. U.S. News also weighs the proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields (15 percent), the student-faculty ratio (5 percent) and the proportion of faculty who are full time (5 percent).

Student selectivity (12.5 percent): A school’s academic atmosphere is determined in part by students’ abilities and ambitions.

This measure has three components. U.S. News factors in the admissions test scores for all enrollees who took the SAT critical reading and math portions and the composite ACT (65 percent of the selectivity score).

U.S. News also considers the proportion of enrolled first-year students at National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes or the proportion of enrolled first-year students at Regional Universities and Regional Colleges who graduated in the top quarter of their classes (25 percent).

The third component is the acceptance rate or the ratio of students admitted to applicants (10 percent).

The data are all for the fall 2016 entering class. While the ranking calculation takes account of both the SAT and ACT scores of all entering students, the ranking tables on usnews.com display the score range for whichever test most students took.

U.S. News use footnotes online to indicate schools that did not report to U.S. News the fall 2016 SAT and ACT scores for all first-time, first-year, degree-seeking students for whom the schools had data. Schools sometimes fail to report SAT and ACT scores for students in these specific categories: athletes, international students, minority students, legacies, those admitted by special arrangement and those who started in summer 2016.

U.S. News also uses footnotes to indicate schools that declined to tell U.S. News whether all students with SAT and ACT test scores were represented.

For schools that did not report all scores or that declined to say whether all scores were reported, U.S. News reduced the value of their SAT and ACT scores in the Best Colleges ranking model by 15 percent. This practice is not new; since the 1997 rankings, U.S. News has discounted the value of such schools’ reported scores in the ranking model, because the effect of leaving students out could be that lower scores are omitted.

If a school told U.S. News that it included all students with scores in its reported SAT and ACT scores, then those scores were counted fully in the rankings and were not footnoted.

If less than 75 percent of the fall 2016 entering class submitted SAT and ACT scores, their test scores were discounted by 15 percent in the ranking calculations. U.S. News also used this policy in the last two editions of the rankings.

The SAT scores used in the 2018 edition of the Best Colleges rankings and published on usnews.com are for the fall 2016 entering class and are for the old SAT test, which students took prior to March 2016.

Financial resources (10 percent): Generous per-student spending indicates that a college can offer a wide variety of programs and services. U.S. News measures financial resources by using the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. Spending on sports, dorms and hospitals does not count.

Graduation rate performance (7.5 percent): This indicator of added value shows the effect of the college’s programs and policies on the graduation rate after controlling for spending and student characteristics, such as standardized test scores, high school class standing and the proportion receiving Pell Grants. U.S. News measures the difference between a school’s six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2010 and the rate U.S. News had predicted for the class. New this year, the proportion of science, technology, engineering and math – STEM – degrees out of the total degrees granted are included for the National Universities ranking category only.

If the school’s actual graduation rate for the 2010 entering class is higher than the rate U.S. News predicted for that same class, then the college is enhancing achievement or overperforming. If a school’s actual graduation rate is lower than the rate that U.S. News predicted, then it is underperforming.

Alumni giving rate (5 percent): This reflects the average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, which is an indirect measure of student satisfaction.

Check out usnews.com over the coming year, since we may add content to the Best Colleges pages as we obtain additional information. And as you mine these tables for insights – where your SAT or ACT scores might win you some merit aid, for example, or where you will be apt to get the most attention from professors – keep in mind that they provide a launching pad, not an easy answer.

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