UI returns to top 50 in magazine's annual college rankings

UI returns to top 50 in magazine's annual college rankings

URBANA — The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is back in the top 50 in the annual U.S. News & World Report college rankings, reversing a two-year slide.

The latest rankings, published Monday, have the UI's flagship campus at No. 46 among national universities, up from 52 in last year and third-highest of the 14 Big Ten schools.

Among public universities nationally, the UI is tied for 13th.

In 2016, the UI was 44th overall; the previous year, it tied for 41st. UI officials had blamed the 11-point drop on the two-year state budget stalemate, which drastically curtailed the university's funding and forced significant budget cuts.

The drop wasn't as large as it seemed, with just a few points separating schools last year. Illinois was tied with Pennsylvania State University at No. 52, just behind six schools at No. 46. And four schools were tied at No. 42.

"We know what measures by which we judge our success. Sometimes they match with U.S. News, and sometimes they don't," said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

This year the UI is tied for 46th with two other schools — the University of Georgia and Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

Northwestern University comes in at No. 10, tied with Johns Hopkins. The only other Big Ten school ahead of the UI is the University of Michigan, at No. 27.

Private schools dominate the top 20, led by Princeton, Harvard and four schools tied for third: the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University.

The University of California-Los Angeles is the highest-rated public institution at No. 19. The only other two that cracked the top 25 are the University of California-Berkeley, at No. 22, and the University of Virginia at No. 25.

The California university system improved this year because it graduated high proportions of low-income students, a new criterion this year in the methodology used to rank schools, U.S. News said. Five of the top 10 schools on the top public list are in California.

The U.S. News rankings evaluate schools in 16 measures of academic quality, using hundreds of data points. The magazine's system was updated to emphasize student outcomes, weighted at 35 percent rather than 30 percent previously.

To measure how well schools support low-income students through graduation, it added "social-mobility indicators," including graduation rates of students who receive need-based federal Pell Grants compared to students who don't.

U.S. News also eliminated a school's acceptance rate as a factor, which was previously weighted at 1.25 percent, and reduced the weight of expert opinions, SAT/ACT scores and more.

Chris Harris, director of strategic communications for the UI, said he's happy to see that shift.

"I think we welcome any ranking or evaluation that puts the focus on the actual educational experiences students have when they choose to come to Illinois," he said. "It seems to me that if you're really trying to decide what constitutes the 'best' university, you should be looking directly at the success and progress students find once they get to that university. We're always very proud of our high graduation and retention rates."

The UI's ranking went up for "Best undergraduate teaching," tied at 43 with Michigan State, Wisconsin and six other schools. But that was lower than three other Big Ten competitors — Michigan (19), Purdue (21) and Northwestern (26).

The UI is at No. 111 among "Best Value" schools, likely because of its still-relatively-high in-state tuition.

Other individual UI rankings:

— The undergraduate engineering program is No. 6, tied with Michigan and Carnegie-Mellon and ahead of all other Big Ten schools.

— Engineering had at least five programs in the top five: civil (3), environmental (3), electrical (5), agricultural/biological (5-tie) and materials science (5-tie)

— The accounting program is No. 2, tied with Brigham Young University and behind top-ranked University of Texas-Austin.

— The undergraduate business program is No. 18, tied with Wisconsin and Minnesota and down from No. 15 last year.

Around the state

Illinois schools ranked among the top 200 national universities by U.S. News & World Report:

3.     University of Chicago
10.   Northwestern
46.   Illinois
80.   Loyola
96.   Illinois Institute of Technology
129. UI Chicago
171. Illinois State

Conference call

How Illinois compares to its Big Ten conference mates among national universities, according to U.S. News & World Report:Big Ten schools:

10.   Northwestern
27.   Michigan
46.   Illinois
49.   Wisconsin
56.   Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers
59.   Penn State
63.   Maryland
76.   Minnesota
85.   Michigan State
89.   Iowa, Indiana
129. Nebraska

This year's top 10

1.   Princeton University
2.   Harvard University
3.   Columbia University
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology
      University of Chicago
      Yale University
7.   Stanford University
8.   Duke University
      University of Pennsylvania
10. Johns Hopkins University
      Northwestern University

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