The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education Join College-Rankings Game

By Mark Walsh — September 28, 2016 2 min read
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Add The Wall Street Journal to the publications doing college rankings, a list that includes variations of one sort or another by granddaddy U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Washington Monthly, The New York Times, Money (best value), and Princeton Review (top party schools).

The Journal partnered with Times Higher Education, a British publication that has been ranking world universities for 12 years, to come up with a ranking of U.S. colleges based on 15 factors that include student outcomes, school resources, engagement, and diversity, but not admissions test scores or selectivity.

“Selectivity doesn’t determine if a particular college will engage students, offer teaching that will enlighten them, or set them on course to a secure financial future,” Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of the Journal, says in a 12-page special section included in Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper and available online.

Baker says the WSJ/THE rankings do value student outcomes, including salaries earned by graduates and student debt burden; the resources each school devotes to academics; engagement, as measured by a survey of students about their interactions with instructors and other factors; and the racial and ethnic diversity of students and faculty and the “number of students from less-fortunate financial backgrounds.”

“The WSJ/THE rankings offer students an invaluable guide because they pull back from the traditional emphasis on inputs—such as the average SAT scores of incoming freshmen or how many candidates were rejected—and place more weight on the students’ postgraduate success as well as their own opinions about the quality of their education,” reporters Melissa Korn and Douglas Belkin write in the lead article of the report.

A detailed methodology is here.

So, who comes out on top of the new ranking?

Stanford University is No. 1, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

Harvard University is in 6th place, and Princeton University, which has been No. 1 in the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings for the last several years, was in 8th place. And the University of Chicago, perennially in the top 10 in most rankings, didn’t crack the Top 10, coming in at 13th. The report says Princeton and Chicago scored top marks on student outcomes, but fell short on student-engagement measures.

Not a single state-funded institution cracked the Top 20, with the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor the top-ranked public university at No. 24.

“The financial constraints that many state schools currently face can’t be ignored,” the lead article states. “Tighter budgets can affect class sizes, graduation rates, faculty hiring and the extent to which a school can offer grants rather than loans in a financial-aid package.”

The report has several sub-rankings. The top school for resources is Harvard. The top one for outcomes is Yale. The top school for overall environment and diversity is La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. And the top school for engagement is ... Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.