This past week, Villanova was ranked 46th in the US News & World Report’s annual ranking of National Universities.  Many members of the University commuunity were delighted by this, as it was a two spot improvement from last year.  In determining their rankings, US News and World Report uses six different measures which they break down further into smaller measures.

At 35%, the most emphasis is placed on what US News calls “Outcomes.” The oucomes measure statitics like graduation and also something they call social mobility which looks exclusively at the graduation rates of lower income students who receive Pell Grants.  

Faculty Resources accounts for 20% which measures class size, faculty salary,and other information about student/faculty statistics.  Up to this point, 55% of the ranking is based on purely statistical measures that universities have a large degree of either controlling or at least influencing.

The most subjective ranking mechanism that US News uses is the “Expert Opinion” section.  20% of the rating is based on the responses of 2,070 “top academics” who rate the academic quality of other universities on a scale from 1, meaning marginal, up to 5, meaning distinguished.  While these “top academics” are top ranking officials at universities, the ballots are not made public, nor the identities of the voters.  Although expert opinion only accounts for a fifth of the ranking, it is easy to see a clique of schools forming, that rates schools like their own as distinguished and up and coming schools as of marginal academic quality.

The remaining 25% is determined by measures of financial resources, student excellence and alumni giving.  The financial resources and alumni giving factors gives an advantage to schools with large endowments, which is another factor that makes it clear why there is not much movement among the top schools.

In totality, most of the ranking consists of measures that a school knows that they are graded on and that can be influenced.  However, ambitious schools may have a hard time influencing expert opinion and donation related statistics, as these metrics are almost entirely based on past performance of the school.  Given this information, it is hard to envision the University breaking into the top twenty any time soon.