The 2024 Best Colleges Rankings Are Out: See Who’s on Top

Written by The Anand Market

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Every year, U.S. News releases its highly anticipated Best Colleges rankings, offering prospective students and their families valuable insights into the top institutions of higher education in the United States. The 2024 rankings have recently been unveiled, and they come with some significant methodological changes that have caused shifts in the positioning of many schools. While the adjustments have generated debate and controversy, they aim to provide a more comprehensive view of what today’s students seek in their college experience.

2024 Best Colleges Rankings

Steady at the Top

Despite the methodological changes, the cream of the crop in the world of higher education remains relatively unchanged. The top-ranked colleges in their respective categories have largely held their ground from the previous year. In the category of National Universities, Princeton University in New Jersey continues to lead the pack, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University and Stanford University tied for third place. Yale University in Connecticut rounds out the top five.

In the National Liberal Arts Colleges category, Williams College in Massachusetts reigns supreme, followed closely by Amherst College. The United States Naval Academy in Maryland takes the third spot, while Pomona College in California and Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania share the fourth place, and Wellesley College in Massachusetts completes the top five.

National Universities:

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National Liberal Arts Colleges:

Methodology Changes

The 2024 Best Colleges rankings have introduced several notable changes in their methodology to better reflect the evolving landscape of higher education. Among the significant alterations are the introduction of new factors and the elimination of some longstanding ones.

2024 best colleges rankings
2024 Best Colleges Rankings

What’s New?

To place greater emphasis on social mobility and outcomes, new factors have been added to the rankings. These include first-generation graduation rates, first-generation graduation rate performance, and the proportion of college graduates earning more than a high school graduate. The definition of social mobility has also evolved to include first-generation graduation rates.

First-generation college student rankings are now based on graduation rates of federal loan recipients who entered college between fall 2011 and fall 2013. To be classified as a first-generation college student, neither parent could have a recorded history of attending college.

The new earnings factor evaluates the proportion of a school’s federal loan recipients who were earning more than a typical high school graduate salary four years after completing their undergraduate degrees. This data is sourced from the College Scorecard, an online tool created by the U.S. government.

Weight Adjustments

Some existing indicators’ weights have been modified for the 2024 edition. Pell graduation performance and rates have seen a slight increase in weight.

Indicator2024 National Universities Weight for Schools With Usable SAT/ACT2024 National Universities Weight for Schools Without Usable SAT/ACT2022-2023 Weight
Graduation rates16%21%17.6%
First-year retention rates5%5%4.4%
Graduation rate performance10%10%8%
Pell graduation rates3%3%2.5%
Pell graduation performance3%3%2.5%
First generation graduation rates2.5%2.5%0%
First generation graduation rate performance2.5%2.5%0%
Borrower debt5%5%3%
College grads earning more than a high school grad5%5%0%
Peer assessment20%20%20%
Faculty salaries6%7%7%
Student-faculty ratio3%3%1%
Full-time faculty2%2%1%
Financial resources per student8%8%10%
Standardized tests5%0%5%
Citations per publication1.25%1.25%0%
Field weighted citation impact1.25%1.25%0%
Publications cited in top 5% of journals1%1%0%
Publications cited in top 25% of journals0.5%0.5%0%
Class size0%0%8%
Terminal degree faculty0%0%3%
Alumni giving average0%0%3%
Graduate debt proportion borrowing0%0%2%
High school class standing0%0%2%

Faculty Research

For National Universities, four new ranking factors related to faculty research have been introduced. These include citations per publication, field-weighted citation impact, and the share of publications cited in the top 5% and 25% of the most cited journals by CiteScore. These factors are based on bibliometric data from Elsevier, an information analytics company, and account for 4% of the overall rankings formula.

What Was Eliminated?

Five longstanding factors have been removed from this year’s rankings calculations. These include the proportion of graduates who borrowed federal loans, high school class standing, alumni giving rate, terminal degree faculty, and class size.

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Why Change the Methodology?

The changes were informed by research findings and polls, which aimed to identify factors that reflect what students prioritize in their college choices. Additionally, the rankings now incorporate educational information that was not available for most of their history.

Some input measures were replaced if the data was not universally reported or was becoming less used by colleges. For example, many high schools have moved away from reporting class standing.

How Colleges Fared

While the top 10 National Universities remained relatively stable, there were still minor fluctuations. Brown University improved its position from a tie at No. 13 to a tie at No. 9. In contrast, the University of Chicago dropped out of the top 10, now sharing the No. 12 spot with Cornell University and Columbia University.

Lower down the rankings list, several schools experienced significant shifts due to changes in ranking factors. Rutgers University—Newark and the University of California, Merced made substantial jumps, while others like Wake Forest University and Tulane University saw their rankings decline.

Regional Universities and Colleges

Regional Universities, which offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, saw some changes in their rankings. The University of Portland in Oregon moved down to No. 2 in the West, while California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo claimed the top spot. In the North, Providence College in Rhode Island now ties with Bentley University in Massachusetts and Rhode Island School of Design at the top, sharing the No. 1 spot.

Among Regional Colleges, which focus on undergraduate education, there were also some shifts in rankings. Illinois Wesleyan University rose to the top spot in the Midwest, while the United States Coast Guard Academy remained No. 1 in the North.

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Public vs. Private Institutions

Public schools, especially those in large diverse states like California, New York, and Texas, have seen improved rankings. This is attributed to the rankings’ increased focus on factors such as return on investment, earnings, debt, Pell recipients, and first-generation students, which public schools tend to perform well on. Private colleges may have benefited more from previously used factors like alumni giving.

Additional College Rankings

Aside from institution type and geographical location, U.S. News offers rankings in other categories such as Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, and Best Colleges for Veterans. These rankings provide students and families with a broader perspective on the diverse array of colleges and universities available in the United States.

In summary, the 2024 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings reflect a shifting landscape in higher education, with a renewed focus on factors that matter most to today’s students. While the changes have caused some fluctuations in rankings, the top institutions continue to provide world-class education and opportunities for their students. As prospective college applicants navigate their choices, these rankings serve as a valuable resource to help them make informed decisions about their future.