I, working with Cambria Consulting (see below), was involved heavily creating the WSJ’s Top 25 College rankings which are in today’s papers. All questions on the methods, I defer to them.
College, or university, rankings are not and cannot be all-encompassing. This is because colleges are not singular entities, but serve at least three distinct purposes. The first, and probably foremost in most students’ minds, is job training. This is rational: most employers now want a candidates to have a “degree” (a certificate only weakly correlated with education). To which school should a student go to get the best job?
Second is in fact education, the traditional—now historical?—reason for a college to exist: who teaches what, who is the most rigorous, the least demanding, and so forth. Last is research: from which institutions do the most new thoughts emerge, who pumps out the most papers, where do professors most want to work, etc.
Being a top school in one dimension does not guarantee top rankings in another dimension. This much is obvious.
Jobs: Wall Street Journal
To find the best schools, in the sense of students finding work in their preferred majors, the WSJ asked recruiters, “From which schools do you prefer to recruit Accountants? Aerospace Engineers?” And so on.
(As I mentioned above, I am an interested party in this, so I will keep my discussion brief, and simply point people to the WSJ for clarification.)
Penn State University won first place, followed Texas A&M and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. View the complete list here.
The first-place ranking for Penn State is across all majors, which means Penn State might not be the school of choice for recruiters looking to hire, say, MIS graduates. The number one school for that is Purdue; while the number one school for Business and for Finance (separate majors), was the University of Michigan.
See this excellent article by Teri Evans for more details.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) took the view that education is the most important factor for students choosing a college. They rated schools based on the number of core competencies required.
These were: composition, literature, foreign language, history, economics, mathematics, science. Schools which required six or more of these—and required them in their true senses—received “A”s, with lower grades going to schools requiring less. “True sense” means, for example, a course in “quantitative reasoning” cannot be substituted for mathematics.
Top schools were few; only 16 of the hundreds of American colleges and universities received an “A.” Here are some: St John’s (in Maryland and New Mexico), Baylor, United States Air Force Academy, Thomas Aquinas, University of Dallas.
As an example of the difference in dimensions: Cornell rated 14 on the WSJ‘s “job” list, but it received an “F” from ACTA, because it only requires a foreign language and nothing else. Worse, “quantitative reasoning” can be substituted form math, non-science courses for science, and there is no concreteness to the composition requirement.
An “F” does not, of course, mean that students attending that sad college cannot received a fine education; but it does imply that the probability of finding an uneducated graduate from that college is higher. Similarly, a student attending an “A” school might still graduate ignorant.
The ACTA site is well worth the time spent browsing the colleges.
The QS rankings, appearing yearly, unlike the previous two rankings, are worldwide. The most important criterion was academic reputation, defined in the usual manner of papers published, citations, perceived importance, and so forth. They also considered employer reputation: how many graduate students find jobs, etc.
To emphasize, the QS ratings are more important to professors and to students wishing to become graduate students.
Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, University College London, and MIT are the top five picks. Once more, a high ranking here does not imply a top ratings in the other lists. To continue to follow Cornell: it was 16 in the world on the QS list, 14 on the WSJ list, and again a “F” on the ACTA scale.
The QS rankings here are the top USA schools. The top ACTA rankings were chosen from the list of “A” schools. The WSJ rankings are across all majors.
|Jobs: WSJ||Education: ACTA||Research: QS|
|1. Penn State||1. St John’s||1. Harvard|
|2. Texas A&M||2. Thomas Aquinas College||2. Yale|
|3. U. Illinois||3. U.S. Air Force Academy||3. MIT|
|4. Purdue||4. U.S. Military Academy||4. U. Chicago|
|5. Arizona State||5. U. Dallas||5. Cal Tech|