Methodology Changes for Best Colleges Rankings

Here's a summary of what's new in the methodology and presentation of this year's rankings.

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U.S. News has made some significant changes this year to the presentation and ranking methodology for our Best Colleges rankings. The full rankings will be available at www.usnews.com/college as of August 17. Here is a brief summary of the changes:

1. To make the rankings more understandable and to reduce confusion, we changed many of the ranking category names for Best Colleges 2011. This year, schools are designated National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges. For a more detailed explanation of the category changes and categories, see Methodology: Ranking Category Definitions.

2. In response to a strong interest from readers in knowing precisely where all schools on their lists stand, we've opted to display the rank of the top 75 percent of schools in each category, up from 50 percent. This top ranked group will be called the First Tier. The schools in the bottom 25 percent of each ranking category are listed alphabetically as the Second Tier (previously called the Fourth Tier). This means we have eliminated the Third Tier from the rankings and we are now numerically ranking 75 percent of the schools in the National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges categories. The same number of schools appear in the ranking tables as last year.

3. Graduation rate performance is more heavily weighted. This measure now accounts for 7.5 percent of the final score (compared to 5 percent previously) for the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories only.

4. For the first time, the opinions of high school counselors—a font of firsthand information about the schools their graduates attend—are factored into the ranking calculations for National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges. In those two categories, the weight assigned to the peer ratings collected in a survey of college presidents, provosts, and deans goes down to 15 percent of the overall score from 25 percent; ratings by the high school counselors surveyed get a weight of 7.5 percent. As a result, in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories, the combined weight undergraduate academic reputation drops to 22.5 percent from 25 percent previously.

5. U.S. News is publishing our second separate public high school counselor rankings of colleges in our National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories.

A more detailed version of these changes to the rankings and complete methodologies will be available as of August 17 at www.usnews.com/collegemeth.

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