Brigham Young University climbed significantly in the U.S. News & World Report America’s Best Colleges rankings this year, tying with schools such as Virginia Tech, at No. 71 in the nation.
The move indicates a jump of more than 42 spots, besting a variety of public and private schools all over the country, while moving up from a 113th place in 2009.
The University of Utah held steady, moving up one spot from last year and tying with Alabama’s Samford University at No. 126. Utah State University also received mention among the best 200 schools but was not numerically ranked.
“We are pleased with the rankings because it accurately reflects what is happening at BYU in terms of providing a quality education for our students,” said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
Various programs at BYU also received high marks, including the Marriott School of Business, which was ranked by the annual publication at No. 31, up from No. 35 last year, in the country among business schools. As far as individual programs, BYU’s accounting program landed at No. 3 in the nation.
Harvard and Princeton, which often duel for top marks, share the No. 1 spot in the latest U.S. News “Bests” edition, on newsstands today, while Yale, Cal-Tech, MIT, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania all tied for fourth place in the Best National Universities category.
The schools are surveyed by peers and rankings are calculated with computational data, including graduation and retention percentages, as well as class size and student/faculty ratios, SAT/ACT scores of incoming freshmen, acceptance rates, availability of financial resources and alumni giving.
The influential rankings are often criticized, with various organizations saying the publication doesn’t provide accurate representations of educational outcomes, or what students can expect to learn by going to college.
“Employers are increasingly dissatisfied with college graduates who lack the basic knowledge and skills expected of any educated person,” said American Council of Trustees and Alumni president Anne D. Neal. “If our students are to compete successfully in the global marketplace, we simply can’t leave their learning up to chance. As it is, thousands are paying dearly for a thin and patchy education.”
The nonprofit advocates for stronger general education requirements have expressed disappointment that too few schools require enough math, American government, history and economics courses prior to graduation.
Too often, college rankings are seen as a game of popularity, ACTA officials worry, pointing out that the average cost for the five schools (among the leading 100) that require six core subjects is $5,400, while schools that boast no such requirements charge students $37,700.
Twenty-six percent of BYU students receive some sort of financial aid, including grants, and after the average 19 percent discount, spend $12,633 per school year. The school ranks No. 29 out of 40, representing a good deal for a great education, according to the rankings.
U.S. News’ list is the most closely watched ranking of undergraduate programs, but it has a growing number of imitators—all with very different ideas about what makes a top college. Forbes.com and the Princeton Review deliver annual rankings as well, prioritizing their own categories and methodology. For example, Dartmouth ranks No. 11 in the News’ rankings, but lands at No. 98 on the Forbes list.
Westminster College landed at No. 22 on the Western United States list of Master’s universities, down a couple spots from last year’s rankings. The school boasts high retention and graduation rates. The private liberal arts college also provides nearly 56 percent of the student body with need-based grants and has an average cost of attendance around $21,000, facts that earned it a spot on the West’s best value schools.
The U. and BYU once again occupied spots on the list of national universities where students have the least amount of debt upon graduation. Forty percent at the U. owe an average of $11,749 after four years of schooling, while 35 percent of BYU students owe at least $13,926 after graduation.