BREAKING: U.S. News rankings get major updates

Today’s rankings and profiles reveal crucial metrics like campus crime rates, student loan defaults

us-news-rankingsIn what could be considered a smart move for U.S. News & World report, the publication’s 2015 college rankings are, for the first time, including statistics on student loan defaults, campus crime, as well as heavily weighting factors part of the methodology that include graduation and retention rates.

The 2015 edition of the rankings—also U.S. News’ 30th edition of the “Best Colleges”—includes data on nearly 1,800 schools in the nation, and outcome-related measures account for 30 percent of the rankings and are the most heavily weighted.

2015 rankings include categories such as: “Best Value Schools,” “Campus Ethnic Diversity,” “Economic Diversity,” “Up-and-Coming Schools,” “Best Undergraduate Teaching,” as well as all of the more traditional rankings the publication is known for.

Discussing the recent shift to more value-based rankings, as well as the focus on student loans, Anita Narayan, education editor, said “How to plan and pay for college is a challenge parents around the country face each year. Our…resources are designed to help families more easily navigate this complex process, from saving for college and understanding financial aid options to paying off student loans.”

“Over the past 20 years, more than 31 million students have dropped out of colleges, according to a recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center,” explained Susannah Snider, education reporter for U.S. News. “That’s why choosing a college that fits academically and financially is so important.”

(Next page: The rankings and how the new focus works)

In a brief overview, here are general rankings for 2015 (for the full list of rankings, click here):


Rankings that students and families might find especially helpful include:

“Student Loan Debt at Graduation.” This data includes loans taken out by students from their colleges, from private financial institutions and from federal, state and local governments, says U.S. News. Loans to parents are not included.

The national universities with the most student loan debt are: Florida Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst., Andrews University, Clarkson University, and Texas Christian University. The rankings also include the worst of national liberal arts colleges, regional universities, and regional colleges.

The national universities with the least student loan debt are: Princeton University, Harvard University, Yale University, California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College. Available data for the categories listed above are also available.

“Programs to Look For.” Based on the nominations of college presidents, chief academic officers and deans of admissions, these programs highlight the “best possible educational experience for undergrads, recognizing that certain enriched offerings, from learning communities and internships to study abroad and senior capstone projects, are linked to student success,” says the publication.

According to college leaders, the colleges with the best ‘First-Year Experience’ include: Alverno College, Appalachian State University, Butler University, and others. Other categories can be found in this ranking.

The 2015 edition also includes web-exclusive rankings: “High School Counselor Rankings,” “Best Undergraduate Teaching,” “Up-and-Coming Schools,” “Ethnic and Economic Diversity,” and “Best Colleges for Veterans.”

But perhaps most revelatory is this year’s focus on campus crime and student loan default data, all from the U.S. Department of Education.

Yearly campus crime statistics are required from most colleges by federal law, and this data can be found in the ‘Campus Safety’ section of each school’s profile page. The data comes from the DOE’s Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool.

U.S. News has also published each school’s three-year federal loan default rate under the ‘Cost and Financial Aid’ section of school’s online profiles. The default rate data, which also comes from the DOE, shows the percentage of students from each school who were in default on their federal student loans at the end of the second year after starting loan repayments in 2010.

Both the campus safety statistics, as well as the loan default rates, are not part of the “Best Colleges” rankings methodology and are presented for informational purposes only. More on why this data is not included in the methodology can be found in the post, “U.S. News publishes college crime statistics, loan default data” here.

A full description of U.S. News’ methodology can be found here.


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