ELON — After a multi-year run as a top Southern school, Elon University now finds itself ranked among the top 100 of the nation’s biggest and best-known universities.
Elon is 84th among national universities in the 2020 Best Colleges rankings published Monday by U.S. News & World Report. Elon is tied with N.C. State University on a list of schools that includes higher education heavyweights such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.
For the past six years, Elon had been ranked as the best regional university in the South, but moved this year into the top tier of U.S. schools. Elon’s top-100 debut is a bit of a surprise and certainly a delight, Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book said.
“I think it speaks to our values ...” Book said. “We’re making a mark as a university committed to student success.”
U.S. News — which publishes the most recognized college rankings in U.S. higher education — measures a number of factors for each of nearly 1,400 schools included in its 35th annual college guide. Among them are student outcomes, class sizes, grades and test scores of incoming students, alumni giving, social mobility and opinion surveys.
Book said Elon’s high graduation rate — it ranks among the top 6 percent in the nation, she said — is a key factor that pushed Elon into the top 100. Student graduation and retention rates are worth about a third of each school’s score in the U.S. News rankings.
Some 79 percent of all Elon students graduate in four years, and 83 percent graduate in six, according to the university’s latest fact book. Book said minority and low-income students are earning their Elon degrees at similar rates.
Elon also is the only school with top-10 rankings in all eight “Academic Programs to Look For” surveyed by U.S. News. That includes two No. 1 rankings — in study abroad and learning communities — and two No. 2 rankings.
Elon also ranks second among national universities for best undergraduate teaching. It trails only Princeton University and is one spot ahead of another Ivy League school, Brown University. That was a big honor, said Book, who thanked faculty members in a letter Monday morning.
Though Elon isn’t as old or as wealthy as some other national universities, “what these universities do not have is the community of Elon faculty — a community of passionate, creative and dedicated teacher-scholar-mentors — a community I am proud to be part of every day,” Book wrote to Elon professors.
About three decades ago, Elon began a slow and steady climb to the top of the U.S. News list of Southern regional universities — universities that award both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Elon got there in 2013 and held that No. 1 rank for five more years until 2018.
In the spring, The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education — a research center at Indiana University that organizes American colleges and universities into roughly comparable groups — put Elon into a new category of doctoral universities. This tier includes universities that have one or more professional schools — like Elon’s law school — or award significant numbers of doctoral degrees but don’t get multi-million-dollar grants for scientific research like schools such as Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill or N.C. A&T.
Because U.S. News organizes its rankings according to Carnegie Classifications, the 7,000-student Elon found itself in a new tier with world-famous Ivy League schools and large flagship state universities. Two other N.C. schools — Campbell University and UNC-Wilmington — also were promoted into this new tier of doctoral universities this year. U.S. News said its list of national universities grew by about 25 percent due to the Carnegie changes.
Book said there was a little nervousness over where Elon might find itself ranked this year. There was a brief celebration when Elon learned last week that it had secured a top-100 ranking.
“We gave ourselves permission to celebrate for 15 minutes,” Book said. “And then we were back at it.”
Some other highlights from this year’s U.S. News rankings:
• N.C. A&T is the nation’s best public historically black college and university for the second straight year. A&T also broke into the rankings of national universities for the first time. In previous years, A&T has been listed alphabetically — and unranked — among the 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 and eight other schools at No. 272.
• High Point University is the No. 1 regional college in the South for the eighth straight year. Regional colleges typically award only bachelor’s degrees.
• Three North Carolina schools are among the top 30 national universities: Duke University (10th), Wake Forest University (27th) and UNC-Chapel Hill (29th). UNC-CH is a top 5 national public university for the 19th year. Duke (eighth) and UNC-CH (10th) rank among the top 10 best values among national universities.
• Princeton is the top-ranked national university for the ninth straight year. Harvard is No. 2; Columbia, MIT and Yale are tied for third; Stanford, Chicago and Penn are sixth; Northwestern is No. 9; and Duke and Johns Hopkins are tied for 10th. Williams College in Massachusetts is the No. 1 national liberal arts college for the 17th straight year.