URBANA — The University of Illinois edged higher in overall national rankings according to the latest U.S. News & World Report list of best colleges and universities.
The Urbana-Champaign campus came in 41st, sharing the spot with the University of Wisconsin, Boston University, Lehigh University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Santa Barbara. In last year's rankings the campus ranked 46th nationally, along with Penn State, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Washington and Yeshiva University in New York.
The top five slots in this year's list were occupied by familiar names: Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Columbia. Stanford and the University of Chicago were tied for fifth.
Among public universities this year, the UI tied at 11th with Wisconsin and UC-Santa Barbara. Last year the UI was in a four-way tie for 13th among the top public national universities, according to Chris Harris, research coordinator with the UI.
The actual numbers that make up these ranking differences are "so small," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
The rankings take into consideration a number of factors, such as a school's acceptance rate, student-faculty ratio, percentage of classes with 20 students or less, average freshman retention rate, alumni giving, graduation rate and more.
This year U.S. News made changes to its methodology. The publisher reduced the weight of "input factors" which reflect the incoming student body (such as high school class standing) and increased the weight of "output measures" that have to do with how successful the college or university is at educating its students (such as the predicted and actual graduation rate).
The publisher's updated measurement tool does not come to a "perfect overlap of things we think are good measures of success, but it's a little closer," Kaler said.
College officials are not worried about driving up rankings, she said, but measuring how students and alumni have an impact on the world.
"Sometimes it overlaps with what U.S. News is doing and sometimes it does not," she said.
The UI became a bit more selective, with its acceptance rate moving from 68 percent to 63 percent this year. Its faculty-student ratio ticked slightly higher from 18 to 1 to 19 to 1. Its freshman retention rate remained the same at 94 percent. The percentage of classes with under 20 students was 42 percent, up from 34 percent.
"Something we had done in a very tactical and strategic way was take some courses where we really do need to have a low number of students per faculty — writing, language courses — and make sure they have fewer than 20 students in them for pedagogical reasons," Kaler said.
That doesn't mean every class should have fewer than 20 students, she said. In some classes it's beneficial to have a large number of students, she said.
"Our admissions folks will tell you students and parents look at U.S. News — it's a reality," Kaler said. However, she added, those students and parents tell admissions officers they choose Illinois "because they like the excellence, the research setting, the course offerings we have, the major offerings, and the opportunity to change your mind if you want to do something else, to explore a different path and find your passion," she said.