Best Colleges Ranking Category Definitions

Understand how U.S. News differentiates colleges and universities for the rankings.

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U.S. News ranks universities and colleges in three steps.

For the third year in a row, to sort colleges and universities into appropriate categories for comparisons, the 2014 edition of Best Colleges uses the 2010 revisions to the Basic Classification created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

The Carnegie classification has been the basis of the Best Colleges sorting system since our first ranking was published in 1983, given that it is used extensively as the basis for classifying schools by higher education researchers. 

For example, the U.S. Department of Education and many higher education associations use the system to organize or label their data. In some cases the Carnegie classifications are used to determine colleges' eligibility for grant money. In short, the Carnegie categories are the accepted standard in U.S. higher education. 

U.S. News collapses 12 of those Carnegie categories from the Basic Classification into four main groupings: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities and Regional Colleges

The schools in the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges categories are placed into one of four geographic regions: North, South, Midwest and West. 

For the third year in a row, U.S. News has included all for-profit colleges and universities that grant bachelor's degrees and are regionally accredited in the universe of schools eligible to be ranked. These include many schools that have large online bachelor's degree programs. Many of these schools ended up being listed as Unranked by U.S. News since they did not meet the U.S. News eligibility criteria to be included in the rankings and to receive a numerical rank. 

Second, data on up to 16 indicators of academic quality are gathered from each school and tabulated. 

Finally, colleges are ranked in their category by their total weighted score. 

National Universities: There are 281 National Universities in the country (173 public, 101 private and seven for-profits), based on categories developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The universities offer a full range of undergraduate majors, as well as master's and doctoral degrees; many strongly emphasize research. They are defined by the Carnegie Foundation as Research Universities (very high research activity), Research Universities (high research activity) and Doctoral/Research Universities. 

National Liberal Arts Colleges: The 248 National Liberal Arts Colleges (27 public, 220 private and one for-profit) emphasize undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in the liberal arts. They are defined by the Carnegie Foundation as Baccalaureate Colleges – Arts & Sciences. 

Regional Universities: Like the National Universities, Regional Universities – defined by the Carnegie Foundation as Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs), Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs) and Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs) – provide a full range of undergraduate programs and some master's level programs. They offer few, if any, doctoral programs. 

The 621 total Regional Universities (262 public, 347 private and 12 for-profits) are ranked within four geographic areas: North, South, Midwest and West. 

Regional Colleges: These institutions focus primarily on undergraduate education, just as the National Liberal Arts Colleges do, but grant less than 50 percent of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. At these schools, at least 10 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded are bachelor's degrees. 

These schools are defined by the Carnegie Foundation as Baccalaureate Colleges – Diverse Fields; Baccalaureate/Associate's Colleges; Associate's – Public 4-year, Primarily Associate's; Associate's – Private Not-for-profit 4-year, Primarily Associate's; and Associate's – Private For-profit 4-year, Primarily Associate's. 

There are a total of 367 (94 public, 256 private and 17 for-profits) Regional Colleges, ranked within four regions: North, South, Midwest and West. 

Specialty schools: Looking for a school that specializes in textile arts or instrumental music? Colleges and universities that offer most or all of their degrees in fine arts, performing arts, business and engineering are listed in this category. None of these schools are ranked, but pertinent data for each school are provided. There is a total of 79 specialty colleges. 

Specialty rankings: U.S. News does rank certain undergraduate program areas. Undergraduate business and undergraduate engineering programs were ranked based solely on a peer assessment survey sent in the spring of 2013. 

To appear on the undergraduate business survey, a school must have an undergraduate business program accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. To appear on an undergraduate engineering survey, a school must have an undergraduate engineering program accredited by the ABET, formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. 

Accredited undergraduate engineering programs were then split into two groups: those schools whose highest engineering degree offered at the engineering school is a doctorate and those engineering schools whose highest engineering degree offered is a bachelor's or master's

Those schools that offer a doctoral degree in engineering tend to have more of a focus on and opportunities for research. Schools whose highest engineering degree is a bachelor's or master's tend to be more focused on undergraduate education. 

U.S. News categories: The 1,596 regionally accredited schools were divided into categories based on the Basic Classifications revised in 2010 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

This first chart below can be used to determine how the Carnegie Foundation's Basic Classification maps into the U.S. News categories used in the 2014 edition of the Best Colleges rankings. 

That is followed by a table that has a complete breakdown of the number of schools in each U.S. News category used in the 2014 edition of Best Colleges and the number in each category that are public, private or proprietary, or are ranked or unranked.

Carnegie category U.S. News category
Research Universities (very high research activity), Research Universities (high research activity) and Doctoral/Research Universities National Universities
Master's Colleges and Universities (larger programs), Master's Colleges and Universities (medium programs) and Master's Colleges and Universities (smaller programs) Regional Universities: North, South, Midwest and West
Baccalaureate Colleges – Arts and Sciences National Liberal Arts Colleges
Baccalaureate Colleges-Diverse; Baccalaureate/Associate Colleges; Associate's – Public 4-year, Primarily Associate's; Associate's – Private Not-for-profit 4-year, Primarily Associate's; and Associate's – Private For-profit 4-year, Primarily Associate's Regional Colleges: North, South, Midwest and West
Category Total number of schools Total number of private schools Total number of public schools Total number of proprietary schools Number in category that were unranked
1. National Liberal Arts Colleges  248  220  27  1  8
2. National Universities  281  101  173  7  11
3. Regional Universities—South  132  59  71  2  8
4. Regional Universities—North  193  121  70  2  11
5.  Regional Universities—West  137  69  65  3  16
6. Regional Universities—Midwest  159  98  56  5  12
7. Regional Colleges—South  119  87  28  4  19
8. Regional Colleges—North  73  45  21  7  11
9. Regional Colleges—West  66  36  28  2  35
10. Regional Colleges—Midwest  109  88  17  4  10
11. Art  58  41  2  15  58
12. Business  15  11  0  4  15
13. Engineering  6  5  1  0  6
Total  1,596  981  559  56  220
Regional Universities total   621  347  262  12  47
Regional Colleges total  367  256  94  17  75
Ranked undergraduate business and engineering institutions Number of schools
Undergraduate Business Programs  467
Undergraduate Engineering Programs at schools whose highest degree in engineering is a Ph.D.  184
Undergraduate Engineering Programs at schools whose highest degree in engineering is a bachelor's or master's  209

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