US College Rankings 2018 results: a game changer for American higher education

Phil Baty on why the results of the 2018 Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings, published on THE today, matter so much

October 11, 2017
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Access the 2018 US College Rankings results free, and in full


We did it! The inaugural Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings, first published a year ago, changed the game. 

We said that students and their families deserved better rankings and that universities and colleges deserved better metrics that allow them to demonstrate their strengths and benchmark their performance. We delivered.

Today, we publish this year’s US College Rankings on our site. You can access the results, free and in full, on the link above (the methodology is here).

Other US rankings reward colleges simply for being rich. Or for having rich graduates. What we have delivered is an evaluation that rewards colleges for providing an enriching learning environment. 

Rather than using metrics that reward colleges for raising barriers to entry, Times Higher Education, in partnership with The  Wall Street Journal, developed a ranking that recognises the value of schools that knock those barriers down. Rather than rewarding colleges for educating “better” students, we created a ranking that rewards colleges for educating students better. 


US College Rankings 2018: the top 10

2018 rank 2017 rank Institution City  State
1 2 Harvard University Cambridge MA
2 5 Columbia University New York NY
=3 3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge MA
=3 1 Stanford University Stanford CA
5 7 Duke University Durham NC
6 6 Yale University New Haven CT
7 12 California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA
8 4 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia PA
9 9 Princeton University Princeton NJ
10 8 Cornell University Ithaca NY

In full: the WSJ/THE US College Rankings results 2018


Indeed, the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Ranking tackles all the key questions that matter most to students and their families when deciding who to trust with their education: does the college have sufficient resources to teach me properly? Will I be engaged, and challenged, by my teachers and classmates? Does the college have a good academic reputation? Is there an inclusive and diverse campus community?

Perhaps most pertinently of all (particularly when US graduates are sitting on $1.3 trillion in debt), it provides students with a clear answer to the question: how likely am I to graduate, pay off my loans and get a good job?

In compiling these rankings results, we disrupted the rigid and often backward-looking US college rankings industry. We made it clear that there were far better ways to create and harness new data sources in order to provide a sharper picture of excellence across US higher education. The critics took note.

Jamie Studley, deputy undersecretary of the US Department of Education – who was instrumental in creating Barack Obama’s College Scorecard and who is now a consultant – asked in a newspaper article if we should “applaud, groan or ignore” yet another entry into a crowded ranking space. “I choose applause,” she wrote. She said that the project by the WSJ and THE “represents a positive step” in challenging the existing US rankings hegemony.

She particularly praised our creation of pioneering value-added metrics. These allow us not only to look at graduate success in absolute terms – where the top students go to the top colleges and get all the top jobs – but also to recognise the contribution that each college makes in transforming individuals’ life chances by taking full account of the make-up of the student body and characteristics of the institution.

This, Studley said, was “a very smart choice”. She also praised us for including “a useful window that reflects an institution’s sensitivity to affordability”.

Personally, I am extremely proud of the THE Student Survey – a survey of more than 100,000 current students each year, examining the extent to which they are intellectually engaged with their learning and stretched by their experiences in college and their interaction with tutors and classmates. This gets to the heart of what great teaching actually is, and not only enables the ranking to offer a unique and unprecedented student perspective, but also provides an incredibly rich and growing new resource for students and a performance benchmarking tool for schools.

My favourite comment came from the mathematician and author (and ranking sceptic) Cathy O’Neil. She noted that if these rankings were ever gamed in the way that other US rankings are, it would actually be rather positive for America because it would mean universities admitting more diverse students and delivering successful outcomes for them. In a podcast last year discussing the new rankings, she said: “I’m really, really happy about this. This is huge. In a good way.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Phil Baty is editorial director, global rankings, at Times Higher Education. Access the US College Rankings results 2018 here

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