Ranking Categories May Change in the Upcoming College Rankings

U.S. News seeks input on potential new names for two of its Best Colleges ranking categories.

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In order to sort colleges and universities into appropriate categories for comparisons the America's Best Colleges ranking uses the basic version of its classifications. Carnegie classifies American colleges and universities according to the school's mission and whether it confers bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees.

Two of our America's Best Colleges ranking category names, Universities-Master's and Baccalaureate Colleges, have proven very confusing to the public and, in many cases, to the schools themselves. For example, we are regularly asked by both the general public and higher education institutions whether our Universities-Master's category represents the rating of master's degree programs at those schools. The rankings are not of any master's program at any of the schools; however, the category includes schools whose highest level of degree conferred is a master's. The America's Best Colleges rankings are of the entire institution with a specific focus on undergraduate programs.

The label Baccalaureate Colleges is unclear because colleges do not identify themselves that way and many people do not understand how the term Baccalaureate describes particular types of colleges.

We use the phrase baccalaureate to describe schools that grant up to a bachelor's degree in a wide variety of fields beyond the liberal arts.

[Read more: Rankings category definitions in detail.] 

We agree that those two category names need to be improved for clarity's sake. Our goal is to come up with names that would be far more understandable and self evident so both users and schools understand the rankings and the types of schools that are part of each ranking category.

[See the current methodology for America's Best Colleges.] 

We are considering new names for the upcoming 2011 edition of the America's Best Colleges that we believe more closely describe the vast number of schools in each of these categories: 

We are contemplating changing the name of Best Universities-Master's to Best Regional Universities. The Best Regional Universities rankings would still be presented in four regions­: North, South, Midwest, and West. The schools that are part of each Regional Universities' region would not change from the current rankings. 

We are contemplating changing the name of Best Baccalaureate Colleges to Best Regional Colleges. The Best Regional Colleges ranking would still be presented in four regions: North, South, Midwest, and West. The schools that are part of each Regional Colleges' region would not change from the current rankings. 

What do you think of these proposed ranking category name changes? Do you have other ideas for category names that you believe are clear? Leave a comment below.