U.S. News college rankings: The big gainers and big decliners over three years

September 10, 2013

In many ways, the U.S. News and World Report college rankings are an annual parlor game that makes irresistible reading for students, parents, alumni, educators and, of course, journalists. Who’s up a notch? Who’s down two?

Does it matter whether Princeton nosed out Harvard, or vice-versa, or they tied? The question answers itself.

Still, the fascination endures. Put it this way: How many insiders who were given advance access Monday to the rankings that were released at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday deleted that e-mail without even taking a peek?

But looking at the rankings over a longer course of time than the annual snapshot might, just possibly, show some trends that matter. Let’s acknowledge that methodology changes (there were some this year), fluctuations in data quality (some schools misreport their numbers, see here and here) and myriad other factors could cause ups and downs.

Even so, if a given school rises or sinks 10 or more spots in the course of a few years, that could illuminate a significant change in what is a highly competitive marketplace. Even if the rankings are mainly about perceptions, those perceptions do influence consumers.

Here is The Post’s review of major movement on the U.S. News national universities list since the 2010-11 edition, released three years ago. The analysis encompasses schools that were on the top 200 lists this year and three years ago. (Yes, we know there is a national liberal arts list too. We’ll try to look at that soon.)

First, the gainers.

●San Diego State University had the largest jump, 31 places, to 152.

●Up 25 were the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (to 128) and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell (to 158).

●Up 21 was the University of Cincinnati (to 135). Up 20 was Northeastern University (to 49), which was notable because big gains are rarer at the high end of the scale.

●Up 17 each were Stony Brook-State University of New York (to 82) and Texas Christian University (to 82).

●Up 16: Loyola University Chicago (to 101).

●Up 15: University of Rhode Island (to 152); University of Louisville (to 161); University at Albany-SUNY (to 128); Boston University (to 41, another notable case); DePaul University (to 121); University of Illinois-Chicago (to 128).

●Up 13: Brigham Young University-Provo (to 62); Florida State University (to 91); and University of South Florida (to 170).

●Up 12: University of St. Thomas (to 112); University of Connecticut (to 57); University of Vermont (to 82).

●Up 11: University at Buffalo-SUNY (to 109); Temple University (to 121); Clark University (to 75).

●Up 10: University of Oklahoma (to 101); St. Mary’s University of Minnesota (to 173); North Carolina State University-Raleigh (to 101); University of Kentucky (to 119); Andrews University (to 181); University of Nevada-Reno (to 181) and Penn State University (notably, to 37).

Now, the major decliners:

●Howard University had the largest drop, down 38 spots, to 142.

●Down 25: University of La Verne (to 161). Down 22: Widener University (to 181). Down 20: Utah State University (to 190). Down 19: Colorado School of Mines (to 91).

●Down 18: Kent State University (to 201); University of California-Riverside (to 112); Montana State University (to 201).

●Down 17: Washington State University (to 128).

●Down 15: St. Louis University (to 101).

●Down 14: Immaculata University (to 190); University of North Dakota (to 173); University of California-Santa Cruz (to 86).

●Down 13: University of Dayton (to 112); University of the Pacific (to 112).

●Down 12: Purdue University-West Lafayette (to 68).

●Down 11: Bowling Green State University (to 181); Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge (to 135); Ohio University (to 135); University of Washington (to 52); Binghamton University-SUNY (to 97); New Jersey Institute of Technology (to 150); Drexel University (to 97).

●Down 10: University of North Carolina-Charlotte (to 201); University of Montana (to 201); Oklahoma State University (to 142).

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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