Ranking Model Indicators
The indicators we use to capture academic quality fall into a number of categories: assessment by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, alumni giving, graduation rate performance and, for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges only, high school counselor ratings of colleges.
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 does its job of educating students.
The measures, their weights in the ranking formula and an explanation of each follow.
Undergraduate academic reputation (22.5 percent): The U.S. News ranking formula gives significant 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.
For their views on National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, we also surveyed 2,202 counselors at public high schools, each of which is a gold, silver or bronze medal winner in the U.S. News rankings of Best High Schools, published in April 2013, and 400 college counselors at the largest independent schools. The counselors represent nearly every state and the District of Columbia.
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 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.
For the second year in row, the two most recent years' survey results, from spring 2012 and spring 2013, 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 2013; of the 4,554 academics who were sent questionnaires, 42 percent responded. The counselors' one-year response rate was 11 percent for the spring 2013 surveys.
Retention (22.5 percent): 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 earning a degree in six years or less; we consider freshman classes that started from fall 2003 through fall 2006. Freshman retention indicates the average proportion of freshmen who entered the school in the fall of 2008 through fall 2011 and returned the following fall.