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Evaluating Public University Rankings

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

Identifying a public university

College guides that rank public universities on factors such as academic offerings, athletics, cost, financial aid, location, and student life can help you identify the public university that will meet your academic, social, and personal needs and interests.

Two of the most well-known publishers of college rankings are "U.S. News and World Report" and "The Princeton Review." Although each publisher's goals are to provide information that helps students and families choose the best public universities and colleges, their ranking methodologies are quite different.

Using academic indicators to rank a public university

"U.S. News and World Report" uses quantitative measures and "unbiased views" on the most important factors in higher education to rank public universities. First, it categorizes schools by mission such as national universities, liberal arts colleges, universities-master's schools, and baccalaureate colleges.

Next, it gathers data on up to 15 indicators of academic excellence for each public college. Indicators receive a weight based on the publishers' judgment about the significance of these measures. Finally, it creates a composite weighted score that is compared to the other schools in its category.

Data are gathered from various sources including peer assessments from top ranking school officials, student retention rates, faculty resources, students' abilities, per-student spending, and graduation and alumni giving rates.

Using student opinion to rank public college

To create its rankings, "The Princeton Review" surveys thousands of students from hundreds of private and public colleges and universities; 99 percent of the surveys are completed online. Its survey contains over 80 questions in 4 sections: "About Yourself," "Life at your School," "Students," and "Your School's Academics/Administration."

Most questions provide a 5-point rating scale ranging from "excellent" to "awful," but some questions are open-ended so students can elaborate on their answers. The results of the ratings are tallied and each university receives a score that is similar to a GPA. These scores are compared to determine each school's rank.

The next step in the ranking process is to send write-ups to the private and public colleges and universities; thus, giving them the opportunity to make comments and corrections. The schools' suggestions are compared to the survey data and changes are made when warranted. Finally, the publisher asks survey takers to review their schools' write-ups from the previous year and grade them on accuracy and validity.

Public college guides can help narrow your search

Rankings may not be your sole determinant for choosing a public university, but they might help you narrow your search and determine the most ideal school for you.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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