Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill:
Understanding the U.S. News Rankings
The recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of colleges, in which MIT fell from fourth to seventh, has resulted in much discussion and consternation within the MIT community. Before too much more sleep is lost over this ranking, the following should be noted: It’s all a tempest in a teapot.
Last year MIT was ranked fourth; well, actually, tied for fourth with CalTech and Stanford (so effectively we were fourth, fifth, or sixth). And sixth is not that far from seventh.
MIT’s overall score this year was 93 – one point behind CalTech and U. Penn (who were tied for fifth) and two points behind number four Stanford. (The college ranked highest receives 100 points.) Last year we received 94 points. But a higher point total does not necessarily correlate with a higher ranking. In 2001 we were fifth with 96 total points; in 2002 we were tied for fifth with 95 points; and in 2003 we were tied for fourth with only 93 points.
And just how are these points derived?
U.S. News uses the following categories and weights to judge colleges:
- Peer Assessment (25%)
- Faculty Resources (20%)
- Graduation and Retention Rate (20%)
- Student Selectivity (15%)
- Financial Resources (10%)
- Alumni Giving (5%)
- Graduation Rate Performance (5%)
There are several subsets under each category, but for MIT perhaps the most difficult one to accurately assess is class size (under Faculty Resources). At MIT there are a significant number of classes that include both a large lecture and a small (under 20 students) section. The way U.S. News defines small class size significantly limits the number of those sections that can be included, and this negatively affects our overall score.
MIT is clearly one of the elite universities in America (and, for that matter, in the world). And yet even here there is certainly room for improvement. And that improvement might result in a higher U.S. News ranking – but it just as easily might not, as performance is judged relative to our peer schools.
One final point: With 25% of the overall score attributed to peer assessment, it’s important to note that MIT received the highest peer assessment score (4.9 out of a possible 5.0) tied with Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford. And MIT has received a score of 4.9 every year for more than a decade.