Key Changes in How the 2022-2023 Best Colleges Rankings Were Calculated

The 38th edition of the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings was released today. Since the mid-1980s, U.S. News has annually published data on colleges and universities to help prospective students and their families make the important — and costly — decision about choosing the right school.

Over the nearly 40 years of publishing these rankings, there have been many changes to the metrics and weights, mainly placing a greater focus on outcome measures like graduation rates, retention rates and social mobility indicators. Still, the mission behind Best Colleges has remained the same. Whether prospective students are looking for the Best Value Schools and A-plus Schools for B Students or want information on campus life and tuition, U.S. News publishes data to help students pick the best school for them.

For the 2022-2023 edition, U.S. News did not add new ranking indicators or modify the weights of existing indicators for the overall rankings. But there were still some significant underlying methodology changes, outlined below. For a more granular description that includes the reasoning behind these changes, read this article on how U.S. News calculated the overall rankings. For an even deeper dive into how U.S. News computed the ranking indicators, see all the Best Colleges methodology articles.

— For schools that did not report fall 2021 SAT/ACT scores totaling at least 50 percent of their new entrants, we instead used their “pre-pandemic” fall 2020 scores as long as they were reported for more than half of that cycle’s new entrants. For schools reporting on less than 50% of their fall entering classes both in fall 2021 and fall 2020, standardized tests were not at all used in their ranking. Instead, we reallocated the 5% weight of the test score indicator to a blend of the average six-year graduation rate and high school standing ranking factors, which historically correlate strongly with the standardized test ranking factor. (In previous editions, SAT/ACT scores were, in effect, reduced if too few students submitted scores; we discontinued that practice for this year’s edition.) Our website always displays the most recent data (e.g. fall 2021) reported, but we added footnotes that flag when those scores were reported on less than half of new entrants.

— Correspondingly, we changed how the A-Plus Schools for B Students list used SAT/ACT scores as a screening factor, incorporating fall 2020 data in cases where fall 2021 data was reported on fewer than half of new entrants. Previously, there was not a percent submitted SAT/ACT threshold used in the A-Plus Schools for B Students list.

— For the proportion of terminal degree faculty ranking factor, in the past we based the proportion on only full-time instructional faculty with terminal degrees. For the 2022-2023 ranking, we assessed the proportion of full-time equivalent faculty with terminal degrees — which considered the credentials of both full-time and part-time instructional faculty.

— Both the average faculty salaries and class size ranking indicators only used 2021-2022 academic year data instead of being based on two-year averages — as both indicators were in the previous ranking.

— Faculty compensation cost of living adjustments used their state non-metropolitan averages instead of the national non-metropolitan averages if they resided outside a core-based statistical area (CBSA) metro area.

— We used U.S. Department of Education data for all three historic years in our four-year rolling average of first-year retention rates. The newest year, which is not yet available for download from the government, remains based on the current year’s U.S. News survey data. Consequently, we removed footnotes that flagged whether graduation rates and retention rates used third-party data or did not have four years of data, which are increasingly irrelevant given our reliance on third-party data for those fields.

— In February 2022, Carnegie released its final updates for classifying colleges — called the “2021 Update.” As always, U.S. News used Carnegie’s latest Basic classifications to assign schools to our 10 ranking categories for valid comparisons among similarly structured institutions. As a result, about 10% of the ranked schools changed U.S. News ranking categories in the 2022-2023 rankings compared with the previous edition.

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