Skip to Content

U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 College Rankings Prioritize Economic Diversity. But the Results Barely Changed

U.S. News & World Report today released its latest U.S. college rankings, required reading for high school seniors since 1983. But the 2019 Best Colleges list was created with slightly different methodologies after a study last year showed that the rankings perpetuate inequality.

Politico found that the criteria used in the U.S. News ranking system gave schools incentive to favor wealthier applicants over less wealthy ones. Rewarding high alumni giving, high test scores, and low acceptance rates meant schools that accepted more wealthy applicants were likely to score better in the rankings. A related study found many top universities admitted more students from the top 1% of earners than the bottom 60% combined. The more elite the student body, the higher the college climbs in the rankings, reinforcing existing inequality.

This year to create the ranking of more than 1,800 colleges and universities, U.S. News considered indicators meant to measure social mobility and no longer considers acceptance rates, which boosted rankings of schools that turned the most students away. It’s a small but important shift for the rankings, which many colleges and universities actively try to climb.

Some of the usual suspects are still at the top of this list—Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Yale—but the public universities of California got a big bump from the new methodology, thanks to their high graduation rates of low-income students.

One of the formula’s new social mobility indicators considers the graduation rates of lower-income students who receive federal Pell Grants, and the other compares the graduation rates of Pell Grant students and non-Pell Grant students at the same school. Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report, told Politico 13% of a school’s rank now comes from economic diversity indicators, while student selectivity (including SAT and ACT test scores) has been decreased to 10% of the rank.