By Ruth A. Pagell*
(16 May 2021) Last year, RR 44 Part 2 did an in-depth analysis of rankings of U.S. universities. It is too soon to revisit all the USA rankings to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on US higher education since the number of four year degree granting institutions has been gradually dropping from 3,039 in 2013-2014 to 2,679 for 2019-2020 (IES-NCES, 2020). I have looked at the second version of QS World University Rankings: USA since I found the first version disappointing.
Is this version any less disappointing?
The standard tool for U.S. rankings is U.S. News Best Colleges, ranking over 1,800 colleges divided into rankings of 388 national public universities, 233 national liberal arts colleges, and regional universities and colleges from the North, South, Midwest, and West. Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College ranking 2021 has one ranking of almost 800 universities that includes liberal arts colleges.
A ranking is only as good as its methodology which has two components: how institutions are selected and what indicators and their metric are used and weighted. At first glance this year’s QS USA is an improvement. 15 institutions from the 2020 rankings have been dropped and 65 have been added, bringing the total to 352. A major improvement is that all institutions have scores for all metrics. Institutions are selected from Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education as either “Doctoral Universities” or “Master’s Colleges and Universities” (Indiana, 2018). Carnegie Classification is not related to quality. The most recent Carnegie Classification is 2018 with data from 2016-2017. Using this dataset selection criteria excludes the best liberal arts colleges.
Methodology remains the same as 2020, with four indicators. Each indicator has multiple metrics for a total of 17. Click here for the full methodology. See Table 1 for tops in each category. The Diversity & Internationalisation indicator produces the most interesting results.
- Research – (28.5%). 13.5% of this score comes from the global Academic reputation survey. Fewer than 100 U.S. universities have an Academic Reputation score in the world ranking. Seven percent of the score is from citations per paper. Many excluded institutions have more citations and more citations per paper than institutions that are not ranked.
- Learning experience – (22%). Six universities have the top score and another 14 the next highest score.
- Diversity & Internationalisation – (25%) – This is the one category where over half the top 10 are not the overall top 10 and where nine of the top 12 are public.
- Employability (24.5%). 10% of this score comes from the QS Employer Reputation Survey used in the World Rankings. Fewer than 100 U.S. universities have an Employer Reputation score in the world ranking. The top 10 for this indicator are the same as the U.S. top 10 overall.
The top 100 overall have individual scores. 101-200 are in clusters of ten; next come 201-250 and 251-300 and the rest are 301-350.
COMPARING QS USA with WSJ /THE US rankings
WSJ/THE rankings were first released in 2017 and are covered in Ruth’s Rankings 26. The first release had over 1,000 institutions that had over 1,000 students, offered bachelor’s degrees, and provided institution level data. The 2021 ranking has 797. Both WSJ/THE and QS source some of their data from U.S. government education statistics. They both have four indicator categories. The categories and weights per metric vary, leading to different results as illustrated in Table 2. Half the top 10 in each list are the same but by the time QS gets into the 100s, the differences widen. Both also use Scopus data for their bibliometric components. I drilled down into SciVal data, looking at QS’ Citations per paper, and top liberal arts colleges’ data were comparable to ranked institutions.
Overall, I still do not think this is the best source for finding the BEST U. S. universities.
Is it the metrics or the dataset?
It is a combination of how institutions are selected and what metrics are used for each indicator. QS uses the Reputation surveys from the world rankings where fewer than 100 U.S. universities have scores. If this is for undergraduates, it does not make sense to exclude top liberal arts colleges. They may not have master’s level degrees, but they are better overall educational institutions than many ranked liberal arts colleges that do have master’s programs. There is also something in the metrics that rewards faith-based institutions.
For students interested in U.S. colleges, I recommend using more than one ranking and checking the College Navigator which includes everything about the institution from religious affiliation to links for international students.
Next year we will revisit local student rankings to see the impact of the pandemic.
I would like to thank Ludovic Highman from QS for listening to my concerns.
IES-NCES College Scorecard https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/
IES-NCES (2020). Table 317.10: Degree granting post-secondary institutions 1949 – 5 to 2018-2019 Digest of Education statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d20/tables/dt20_317.10.asp?current=yes
IES-NCES College Navigator https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
Indiana University, Center for Postsecondary Research (n.d.). The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, 2018 edition, Bloomington, IN). http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/.
QS World University Rankings USA https://www.topuniversities.com/usa-rankings
QS World University Rankings USA Methodology https://www.topuniversities.com/usa-rankings/methodology
Ruth’s Rankings 26 (April 2017) https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-26-march-madness-rankings-u-s-universities-sports/
Ruth’s rankings 44 Part 2 (June 2020). https://librarylearningspace.com/ruths-rankings-44-part-2-whats-best-university-international-undergraduate-student-using-local-metrics-emphasis-u-s-chinese-rankings/
U.S. News Best Colleges https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges
Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings 2021
Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings 2021 methodology https://www.timeshighereducation.com/USmethodology2021
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674