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About the rankings -- sections of this document
There are numerous rankings of U.S. and world institutions of higher
learning. Scholars in the U.S. and Europe have criticized the methodological
shortcomings and other limitations of these rankings and warn that they oversimplify
the complex nature of assessing the relative merits of educational programs and institutions.
See, for example,
"The State of the Rankings,"
published in 2010 in Inside Higher Ed, and
Global University Rankings and Their Impact,
a 2011 report by the European University Association. Nevertheless, rankings are
widely used and influence perceptions of prospective students and their parents
about colleges and universities.
We provide here brief descriptions of some of the main rankings, links
to rankings pages, information on rankings given for CU-Boulder, and links to
other resources for information about rankings. We encourage users to bear in mind
that rankings depend strongly on the indicators chosen to indicate institutional
quality and on the weights or relative importance
assigned to those indicators. Despite the proliferation and popularity of
rankings, they are controversial. For example:
Rankings of U.S. undergraduate institutions and programs
- They often rely on small numbers of selected indicators.
- They may have intended or unintended emphases, e.g., in favor of
research activity rather than teaching excellence.
- They may rely on weak, incomplete, and/or non-comparable data sources.
- Indicators of quality or success vary greatly across programs or
disciplines (e.g., liberal arts and natural sciences), and these
differences may not be taken into account by a ranking methodology.
- Reputational rankings may rely on the opinions of a small number
of raters characterized by widely varying levels of expertise and
- What's "best" for one student will not be "best" for another.
Rankings of U.S. graduate programs
- U.S. News & World Report
publishes annual rankings of over 1400 schools
based on statistical information provided by colleges and reputational rankings
provided by college administrators and high school counselors. The
methodology used to rank institutions is described in
"How U.S. News
Calculates the College Rankings" and in a tab of the Excel on CU-Boulder US News
- Forbes' annual list of
America's Best Colleges
ranks over 600 schools based on the
quality of the education they provide, the experiences of the students, and
how much they achieve. Only those schools categorized by
The Carnegie Foundation
as doctorate-granting universities, master's colleges and universities, or
baccalaureate colleges are included in this sample of schools. Rankings are
compiled in conjunction with the
Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP);
uses five general categories of indicators.
- The Princeton Review's annual
publication includes 62 ranking lists they describe as "top 20" lists based
on their survey of students attending the colleges included in the
publication. The publication also includes eight college ratings scores that
rely on school-reported data and/or data from the student surveys. Among the
eight rating categories are academics, admissions selectivity, financial aid,
and fire safety.
- The Princeton Review's annual
Best Value Colleges
publication uses institutional data and student opinion surveys to rank 50 public and 50 private
institutions based on undergraduate academics, costs, and financial aid
(see "Best Value Colleges Methodology").
- The Princeton Review also ranks the top 25 undergraduate entrepreneur programs
based on survey data provided by more than 2,000 institutions. Rankings and
information about the methodology used to calculate them are published by
- Kiplinger ranks the top 100
public colleges and universities and
the top 200
private colleges and universities
based on academic quality and affordability. Its rankings rely on data from
more than 500 public four-year schools and data from more than 600 private
institutions. Data (provided by Peterson's/Nelnet) include factors such as admission rate, students per
faculty, graduation rate, cost, and financial aid.
- Fiske Guide to Colleges
rates more than 300 colleges annually on the strength of their academics, extracurricular
activities, and social life. It also lists colleges and universities that qualify
as "Best Buys" based on the quality of the academic offerings in relation to
the cost of attendance. Fiske also offers more
based on various criteria, e.g., "Top Conservative Colleges," "Top Women’s Colleges,"
and "Top Nonconformist Colleges."
Rankings of U.S. and world research universities
- The U.S. News & World Report annual
Best Grad Schools
publication includes rankings of graduate programs in business, education,
engineering, law, medicine, science, library and information studies, social
sciences and humanities, health, public affairs, and fine arts. Not all
programs are ranked every year. The rankings methodology varies somewhat for
different overall programs or schools, e.g.,
Engineering Program Rankings Methodology
Business School Rankings Methodology.
"Specialty rankings" of, for example, specific disciplines in the sciences
(biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, earth sciences,
mathematics, physics, and statistics) rely solely on reputational surveys of programs
Science Rankings Methodology).
- The Princeton Review ranks the top 25 graduate entrepreneur programs
based on survey data provided by more than 2,000 institutions. Rankings and
information about the methodology used to calculate them are
published by Entrepreneur.
- Approximately every 10 years, beginning in 1982, the
National Research Council (NRC)
conducts a survey and compiles a report on U.S. research-doctorate programs.
The most recent
(2010) did not provide exact ranks for any of the 222 participating institutions; rather,
they used a scale system that provided statistical ranges for each of two types
of rankings. "R Rankings" were based on regression analyses of
various survey results in which academics reviewed the reputation of
actual programs; "S Rankings" were based on how various programs'
characteristics measured against criteria which academics rated as
key determinants of quality for such programs.
Research is typically the most important factor
in ranking higher education institutions as a whole. On the webpage for its The Top American Research Universities annual reports,
The Center for Measuring University Performance notes that it is generally accepted that
matters more than anything else in defining the best institutions." And in its 2011 report on
Global University Rankings and Their Impact,
the European University Association concluded that their "report confirms that most international
rankings focus predominantly on indicators related to the research function of universities."
These rankings, therefore, may be of particular interest to graduate students
investigating institutional research
reputations and opportunities in their professional areas. Among the most popular of these rankings are
- The Center for Measuring University Performance
at Arizona State University (formerly U of Florida) is a research enterprise focused on management
and incentive and reward systems in major research universities and on
methods for measuring and improving university performance. Its annual
report, The Top American Research Universities,
provides information on American research universities' performance. The
report ranks institutions based on the number of times they rank in the top
25 on nine performance variables, including research dollars, post-docs,
faculty honors, and number of PhD's granted. The assessment includes only those
institutions that receive at least a certain minimal amount of federal
research monies (for the 2010 report, $40 million in fiscal year 2008).
- CU-Boulder in world/international rankings: ARWU, THE, QS/US News, Leiden
- all discussed below
- The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU)
assesses more than 1,000 institutions and
publishes rankings for the World Top 500 Universities, the World Top 100
Universities in five broad subject fields (natural sciences and mathematics,
engineering/technology and computer sciences, life and agricultural sciences,
clinical medicine and pharmacy, and social sciences), and the World Top 100
Universities in five subject fields or disciplines (mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer
science, and economics/business). The
ranking methodology relies on
several indicators of academic or research performance, including alumni and
staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, highly cited researchers,
papers published in Nature and Science, papers indexed in major citation
indices, and the per capita academic performance of an institution.
Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings
ranks the top 200 world universities based on indicators of excellence in
research and "teaching. It also ranks the top 50 world universities in six
broad subject areas-- engineering and technology; life sciences; clinical,
pre-clinical and health; physical sciences; social sciences; and arts and
uses 13 criteria, including data from a worldwide Academic Reputation Survey.
Data collection is carried out by Thomson Reuters and its
Institutional Profiles Project.
- Beginning in 2011 Times Higher Education (THE) also publishes
World Reputation Rankings,
a subsidiary of its World University Rankings. This ranking of the top 100
world universities, based on reputation for teaching and research, uses data
from a global survey of academic opinion completed by more than 13,000
academics from 131 countries.
Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS)
Leiden Ranking is based on data from
the Web of Science bibliographic database produced by Thomson Reuters. The
current (2013) ranking includes the 500 universities worldwide with the largest
publication output in the Web of Science database.
- The Leiden ranking reports three indicators of the scientific
impact of a university and four indicators of scientific
collaboration. Information about the methodology is available
- Beginning in 2013, the Leiden ranking is also reported for
five broad fields of science: Biomedical and health sciences,
life and earth sciences, mathematics and computer science,
natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and
- The Center for World University Rankings (CWUR)
rankings of the top 100 world universities
were first published in July 2012. CWUR is based in Jeddah,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The
ranking methodology relies on a
combination of seven indicators of faculty quality, research quality, and
alumni achievements. CWUR uses no data collected directly from universities.
- U.S. News & World Report's
World's Best Universities
rankings are based on data from the
QS World University Rankings,
which were produced in association with QS Quacquarelli Symonds. The
uses six indicators, including two reputational measures--an academic peer review
survey and an employer review survey.
The two organizations overlap a great deal in their reported rankings.
- The U.S. News rankings include the Top 400 Universities worldwide, the Top 50
Asian Universities, the Top 50 European Universities, the Top 20 Canadian
Universities, the Top 20 Australian and New Zealand Universities, and the Top 10 Latin American Universities.
Also included are the Top 100 global rankings in the fields of arts and humanities,
engineering and information technology, life sciences and biomedicine, natural sciences, and
- The QS rankings include the top 600+ world universities;
rankings by selected subjects in the fields of arts and humanities,
engineering and technology, life sciences and medicine, and natural sciences;
and rankings by each of the six academic criteria or indicators.
The landscape of global university rankings is populated with a growing number of
rankings that includes more diverse and specialized rankings. For example:
Rankings of online programs
- U.S. News & World Report in June 2011 announced its
to rank online bachelor's and selected master's degree programs in the U.S.
Reactions to this announcement are described in an
in the June 30, 2011 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. U.S.
publishing these rankings in 2012.
- Numerous organizations publish rankings of distance-learning MBA
directories, blogs, etc. The validity and legitimacy of many of these
may be questionable.
Interested readers are directed to the following sites for additional information about
rankings (including material on rankings not mentioned in this posting, critiques of rankings,
and a ranking audit system created in 2009):
- The Association of American Universities Data Exchange (AAUDE)
has a reference page
of material dealing with international rankings.
- The Top American Universities 2010 Annual Report
of The Center for Measuring University Performance includes a selected
bibliography of comments on and critiques of U.S. and global rankings (pp.
from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity
(2009) provides a useful overview of the history of college rankings, a summary of
key criticisms of rankings, comments on the contemporary effects of
rankings, and ideas for the reform and improvement of college rankings.
- The Wikipedia entry on
college and university rankings
has extensive information on regional and national rankings. The entry also
includes links to Wikipedia entries on law school rankings and MBA program
- PhDs.org offers prospective
graduate students a do-it-yourself ranking tool that allows them
to rank programs based on personal priorities, including research
productivity, diversity, and professional-development opportunities. Users
assign their own weights to each factor to produce a ranking that best
reflects their individual preferences. Users may also narrow their search by
filtering on institutional factors such as program size, tuition, and
availability of funding. The website uses data from from the National
Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the National Center
for Education Statistics. For more on personalized rankings, click
- To give users of rankings a tool to identify trustworthy rankings,
the International Ranking Expert Group (IREG) Observatory on Academic Ranking and
Excellence created the IREG ranking audit.
The audit is based on
The Berlin Principles on Ranking of Higher Education Institutions,
a 2006 codification of good ranking practice developed to
contribute to the improvement and evaluation of rankings.
- The International Ranking Expert Group (IREG)
emerged in 2002 as a joint initiative of the UNESCO European Centre for Higher Education (UNESCO-CEPES)
in Bucharest and a group of international ranking experts concerned with the quality of
- IREG was formally established in 2004 by UNESCO-CEPES and the Institute for Higher Education
Policy in Washington, DC.
- The IREG Observatory on Academic Ranking and Excellence is a not-for-profit association of ranking
organizations, universities, and other organizations interested in the improvement of the quality of
international and national rankings of higher education institutions. The association has close to
20 member organizations from Asia, Europe, and the U.S.