Each person 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. In the case of the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, the academic peer assessment accounts for 15 percentage points of the weighting, and 7.5 percentage points go to the counselors' ratings.
There was one small methodology change made for the U.S. News Best Colleges 2013 edition rankings. This year, for the first time, the most recent two years of survey results from spring 2011 and spring 2012 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.
The academic peer assessment score continues to be based only on the most recent year's results. Both the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges rankings continue to rely on one assessment score, by the academic peer group.
In order to reduce the impact of strategic voting by respondents, we eliminated the two highest and two lowest scores each school received before calculating the average score. Ipsos Public Affairs collected the data in spring 2012; of the 4,571 academics who were sent questionnaires, 44 percent responded. The counselors' one-year response rate was 11 percent for the spring 2012 surveys.
Retention (20 percent for the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges and 25 percent for Regional Universities and Regional Colleges): The higher the proportion of freshmen 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 retention score) and freshman retention rate (20 percent). The graduation rate indicates the average proportion of a graduating class who earned a degree in six years or less; we consider freshman classes that started from fall 2002 through fall 2005. Freshman retention indicates the average proportion of freshmen who entered the school in the fall of 2007 through fall 2010 and returned the following fall.
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 it is they will graduate. We use six factors from the 2011-2012 academic year to assess a school's commitment to instruction. Class size has two components: the proportion of classes with fewer than 20 students (30 percent of the faculty resources score) and the proportion with 50 or more students (10 percent of the score).
Faculty salary (35 percent) is the average faculty pay, plus benefits, during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years, adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living using indexes from the consulting firm Runzheimer International. We also weigh 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 (15 percent): A school's academic atmosphere is determined in part by the abilities and ambitions of the students. We factor in the admissions test scores for all enrollees who took the Critical Reading and Math portions of the SAT and the Composite ACT score (50 percent of the selectivity score); the proportion of enrolled freshmen at National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes or in the top quarter at Regional Universities and Regional Colleges (40 percent); and the acceptance rate, or the ratio of students admitted to applicants (10 percent).