U.S. News 2024 Rankings Reveal Few Surprises

A few elites drop and some publics climb, but the revamped U.S. News formula generates essentially the same results.
portrait of Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.
Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D.
Read Full Bio


Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., is a senior writer and higher education analyst with BestColleges. He has 30 years of experience in higher education as a university administrator and faculty member and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. A former...
Published on September 19, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Reece Johnson
Reece Johnson
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Reece Johnson is the editorial director for news and data. He writes about the future of work and higher education, student political activism, and expanding educational opportunities. Reece holds a master's degree from Columbia University and a bach...
Learn more about our editorial process
Image Credit: John Greim / Contributor / LightRocket / Getty Images

  • U.S. News & World Report recently released its 2024 college rankings.
  • The revised methodology focuses more on student body diversity and graduate outcomes.
  • Despite the new formula, familiar names dominate the lists of top colleges.
  • U.S. News rankings have generated controversy and resulted in university boycotts.

The 2024 U.S. News & World Report college rankings dropped on Sept. 18, revealing the results of the magazine's rejiggered formula.

Gone are some of the usual metrics such as alumni giving, class size, and high school class standing in favor of new measures related to low-income and first-generation students, along with graduate outcomes.

The magazine hasn't abandoned its peer assessment survey, which still accounts for 20% of a school's overall score.

What havoc has all this wreaked on the lists?

New Methodology Focuses More on Outcomes

Last May, U.S. News announced changes to its college rankings for the upcoming edition. The magazine promised to focus more on a school's success in graduating students from different backgrounds.

With these new rankings comes a detailed discussion of its methodology that lends specificity to that rather vague language. Graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients now account for 3% of a school's score, up from 2.5%. A new criterion, first-generation student graduation rate, counts for 2.5%.

The magazine also introduced a measure assessing a college's share of students who earn more than a typical high school graduate four years after completing a bachelor's degree. This new feature counts for 5% of the score.

Other tweaks include reducing the financial resources per student weight from 10% to 8% while increasing the student-faculty ratio weight from 1% to 3%.

U.S. News calls the revisions the most significant methodological change in the rankings' history.

Significant changes were made to the methodology for the 2024 Best Colleges edition to place greater emphasis on outcome measures, Eric Brooks, principal data analyst for the magazine's education rankings, wrote in an email. Student outcomes now constitute more than half of a college's score, he noted.

This revised focus contrasts with the longstanding criticism that U.S. News rewards inputs such as SAT scores and financial resources, criteria that reward elite, wealthy institutions, most of them private.

Still, when all the new numbers are crunched, familiar names appear at the top. These are the highest-ranked national universities:

  1. Princeton University
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. (TIE) Harvard University and Stanford University
  4. Yale University
  5. University of Pennsylvania
  6. (TIE) California Institute of Technology and Duke University
  7. (TIE) Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, and Northwestern University

And these are the highest-ranked national liberal arts colleges:

  1. Williams College
  2. Amherst College
  3. U.S. Naval Academy
  4. (TIE) Pomona College, Swarthmore College, and Wellesley College
  5. U.S. Air Force Academy
  6. U.S. Military Academy
  7. (TIE) Bowdoin College and Carleton College

Both Princeton and Williams have held a death grip on their respective top spots for years.

But the new lists do reflect some movement. Among national universities, the University of Chicago fell from #6 to #12, while Dartmouth College dropped from #12 to #18.

Columbia University, which has been immersed in a public imbroglio with U.S. News for two years, also lands at #12, tied with Chicago and fellow Ivy Cornell University. Last year, Columbia plummeted from #2 to #18 following accusations that the university provided bogus data. The university and U.S. News subsequently filed for divorce, with Columbia becoming the highest-profile college to stop participating in the magazine's data collection.

Among other notable institutions, Washington University in St. Louis fell from #15 to #24, and Tulane University sank from #44 to #73.

Michael A. Fitts, Tulane's president, told The New York Times he was shocked, attributing the drop to a radically different methodology that penalizes schools like his.

Are they conflating different criteria by looking at, in essence, your ability to enroll a broad, large class of students? he said. Or are you looking at sort of the academic quality of the students while they're there?

Yes and yes.

At the same time, several universities benefitted from the revised formula. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary jumped 106 spots. The University of Texas at San Antonio, 92.

California State University, East Bay, 88. And Florida Gulf Coast University, 80.

Public universities in California dominated rankings based on social mobility. Topping the list were California State University-Long Beach and California State University-Fullerton.

In their own college rankings, both The Wall Street Journal and Washington Monthly focus on social mobility, though the tops of their lists feature the same names that dominate the U.S. News rankings.

Rankings Cloaked in Controversy

By revising its methodology to favor outcomes more than inputs that measure wealth, U.S. News took baby steps to assuage critics who decry the rankings as mere beauty contests at best and misleading and harmful at worst.

Last fall, top law schools, starting with Yale, began boycotting U.S. News, refusing to cooperate with the magazine's data collection. Harvard soon followed suit, along with Stanford, Penn, Columbia, Michigan, Duke, and several other law schools U.S. News regularly ranks among its top 20.

Law school officials claim the rankings incentivize them to recruit students with high standardized test scores, students who often can afford expensive test prep courses. As a result, incoming classes aren't as socioeconomically diverse as they could be.

Shortly thereafter, leading medical schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Penn, and Stanford — all highly ranked by U.S. News — followed a similar path. Like law schools, medical schools cited problems with the magazine's misguided assumptions related to admissions criteria and career choices.

Meanwhile, the undergraduate rankings remain largely intact. In addition to Columbia, only a few colleges, including The Rhode Island School of Design, Colorado College, Bard College, and Stillman College, have opted to boycott. Among national universities and liberal arts colleges, about 90% of institutions submitted data for this year.

L. Song Richardson, Colorado College's president, called the new methodology slightly better.

It doesn't ease my concerns, which is why we haven't rejoined, Richardson told The New York Times. But certainly I'm thrilled that they're starting to listen to what higher ed leaders have been saying to them.

Perhaps as a preemptive measure, U.S. News has begun relying more on publicly available data and less on information submitted by colleges themselves, save for the ever-present reputational survey. The magazine has pledged to continue ranking colleges even in the event institutions stop supplying data.

That day may soon come despite the magazine's concessions. In the meantime, U.S. News finds itself playing to a shrinking audience, according to an Art & Science Group report. It found that 58% of graduating seniors consulted rankings in their college search, but only 3% knew where U.S. News ranked their top-choice school.

Undaunted, U.S. News continues its quest to provide a public service to students and their families.

The significant changes in this year's methodology are part of the ongoing evolution to make sure our rankings capture what is most important for students as they compare colleges and select the school that is right for them, said Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News.