The U.S. News & World Report college rankings came out today. Spoiler alert: The 2020 Best Colleges list will remind you of last year's rankings (and the year before that and the year before that, etc.) except in the case of one local school that we'll get to shortly.
But first, some highlights (and click on a school's name to see its news release):
• N.C. A&T holds the top spot the nation's top public historically black college and university for the second straight year. (A&T is No. 6 overall on the HBCU list; Spelman College, the private woman's school in Atlanta, ranks first.) A&T also cracked the ranked list of national universities for the first time. In previous years, A&T has been listed alphabetically — and unranked — among about 90 schools at the bottom of the U.S. News list of national universities. This year, A&T comes in at No. 281, one spot behind UNCG at No. 272. (I say "one spot behind" because nine schools are tied at No. 272.)
• Thirteen North Carolina schools are ranked among national universities. They are: Duke (at No. 10), Wake Forest (27), UNC-Chapel Hill (29), N.C. State (84), Elon (84; spoiler alert!), UNC-Wilmington (185), East Carolina (228), UNC-Charlotte (228), UNCG (272), Campbell (272), A&T (281) and Gardner-Webb (281). Wingate was included in this group but isn't ranked.
• Speaking of UNC-Chapel Hill, it extends its stay in the top five among national public universities to 19 years. This year, Carolina is tied with Georgia Tech for fifth. Ahead of those two schools are UCLA (20th overall), UC-Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia.
• I found three other North Carolina schools in the top 10 in their respective categories: Appalachian State is sixth ranks sixth among Southern regional universities, while Catawba (eighth) and Barton (10th) are in the top 10 of Southern regional colleges (aka HPU's category). Davidson College, a perennial top 10 among national liberal arts colleges, is 17th this year.
• The top-ranked national school for the ninth straight year is Princeton. Harvard is No. 2, and Columbia, MIT and Yale are tied for third.
Now for the big change: It's Elon University, which gave up its No. 1 ranking among Southern regional universities — a belt it held proudly for the past six years — to move onto the National Universities list.
Elon's debut on the list led by Princeton, Harvard, etc., is a strong one: 84th, tied with N.C. State. Elon ranks second nationally for its undergraduate teaching.
"Elon has assumed a new level of leadership,” Elon President Connie Ledoux Book proclaimed in this news release. (There's also a one-minute video if you click through.)
The move to a new category wasn't exactly Elon's idea. Earlier this year, Elon got moved into a new class of doctoral and professional universities. The Carnegie Classifications created this third category of doctoral universities to better define schools that have doctoral and professional programs (like law and physical therapy, which Elon offers) but don't do a lot of research compared to, say, Duke and UNC-CH and UNCG and A&T. Reclassification is a big deal because, among other things, the U.S. News rankings start with the Carnegie Classifications. U.S. News notes that, because of the reclassification, the number of national universities grew by about 25 percent this year.
Two other North Carolina schools were reclassified this year by Carnegie and moved with Elon from the U.S. News list of Southern regional universities. They are UNCW (185th on the National University list) and Campbell (272nd).
U.S. News tinkered with its rankings a bit as it always does. This story in Education Dive hits some of its high points. The biggest change seems to be a standalone social mobility ranking — that is, schools that enroll and graduate large numbers of low-income students who get federal Pell Grants. The No. 1 school on this list is University of California, Riverside. Four N.C. schools made the top 100 among national universities: UNCG (27th), East Carolina (39th), A&T (66th) and UNC-Charlotte (84th).
Salem College, meanwhile, ranks fourth in social mobility among national liberal arts colleges. N.C. Central is seventh among Southern regional universities, and Greensboro College and Elizabeth City State are seventh among Southern regional colleges.
Education Dive offers this caveat:
However, the rankings are still likely to catch some flak. That's because the usual suspects — Princeton, Harvard and Columbia universities — nabbed the coveted top spots in the national universities ranking. The remainder of the top of the list is similar from last year. ...
... some lawmakers and higher ed leaders have previously said the rankings don't do enough to reward social mobility, which accounts for 5% of an institution's score in the main Best Colleges lists. Moreover, the primary lists don't reward institutions for the share of underrepresented students an institution enrolls.
And from USA Today, here's an interesting rankings story that focuses largely on Reed College in Oregon. Students in a statistics class there say that Reed takes a 52-place hit in the U.S. News rankings because the private school famously refuses (and has for years) to fill out the surveys and peer evaluations used by U.S. News. U.S. News, of course, disputes the findings of the Reed students.
Lastly, here's your annual reminder that college rankings can be a good start for any college search but by themselves they're a lousy reason to choose any particular school.