College Rankings for 2015 Keep Princeton on Top

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The 2015 U.S. News & World Report college rankings are out and Princeton retains the title of top private university in the United States.

This list is considered the best ranking guide of American colleges. It compiles information from almost 1,800 colleges and universities.

Schools are ranked in 16 different categories of academic indicators. These include graduation rates, freshmen retention, alumni giving, financial resources and other areas.

Even though there are many lists to choose from, with more coming out every year, U.S. News’s list is considered the definitive one for college academics ratings. Begun 30 years ago, the list has spawned many competitors. It has not spawned much movement among the top-ranked schools, however.

Although the list is released annually, and has a strong effect on college admissions and interest, many education professionals and college presidents have criticized the methodology behind the list as being too subjective. There is little movement at the top of the list, Dartmouth falling out of the top ten was the biggest change from last year’s list, but substantial movement occurs lower in the list. For example, St. John’s College in Annapolis rose from 123rd to 56th place among national liberal arts colleges. That 67 place jump was the largest spike among the top 150 liberal arts colleges.

“It should suggest something about the unreliability of the rankings, frankly,” said Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College to the Washington Post. This was the first year he sent a profile to U.S. News.

Whether an accurate barometer of the quality of education, or not, the list is held in high esteem by the colleges and universities that rank well on it. This has led to colleges manipulating their data to ensure that they appear on the list, or offering laptop programs to boost numbers. George Washington University was unranked on the list in 2012 after it misreported academic achievements by its incoming freshmen. It had been at the 51st place. GWU returned to the list in 2014 and is in 54th place this year.

Rising student debt, increasing drop-out rates and a weak job market will make sure that the list stays relevant as students and their parents try to find the best college that fits their needs and will give them the most value for their education dollars.