A Note on Methodology: 4-year Colleges and Universities
by the Editors
There are two primary goals to our methodology. First, we considered no single category to be more important than any other. Second, the final rankings needed to reflect excellence across the full breadth of our measures, rather than reward an exceptionally high focus on, say, research. Thus, all three main categories were weighted equally when calculating the final score. In order to ensure that each measurement contributed equally to a school’s score within any given category, we standardized each data set so that each had a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. The data were also adjusted to account for statistical outliers. No school’s performance in any single area was allowed to exceed five standard deviations from the mean of the data set. Thanks to rounding, some schools have the same overall score. We have ranked them according to their pre-rounding results.
Each of our three categories includes several components. We have determined the community service score by measuring each school’s performance in five different areas: the size of each school’s Army and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps programs, relative to the size of the school; the number of alumni currently serving in the Peace Corps, relative to the size of the school; the percentage of federal work-study grant money spent on community service projects; a combined score based on the number of students participating in community service and total service hours performed, both relative to school size; and a combined score based on the number of full-time staff supporting community service, relative to the total number of staff, the number of academic courses that incorporate service, relative to school size, and whether the institution provides scholarships for community service.
The latter two measures are new to this year’s rankings. The first is a measure of student participation in community service and the second is a measure of institutional support for service. The new measures are based on data reported to the Corporation for National and Community Service by colleges and universities in their applications for the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Colleges that did not submit applications had no data and were given zeros on these measures. Many of the schools that dropped in our service rankings this year fall into this category. (Our advice to those schools is that if you care about service, believe you do a good job of promoting it, and want the world to know, then fill out the application!)
The research score for national universities is also based on five measurements: the total amount of an institution’s research spending (from the Center for Measuring University Performance and the National Science Foundation); the number of science and engineering PhDs awarded by the university; the number of undergraduate alumni who have gone on to receive a PhD in any subject, relative to the size of the school; the number of faculty receiving prestigious awards, relative to the number of full-time faculty; and the number of faculty in the National Academies, relative to the number of full-time faculty. For national universities, we weighted each of these components equally to determine a school’s final score in the category. For liberal arts colleges, master’s universities, and baccalaureate colleges, which do not have extensive doctoral programs, science and engineering PhDs were excluded and we gave double weight to the number of alumni who go on to get PhDs. Faculty awards and National Academy membership were not included in the research score for these institutions because such data is available for only a relative handful of these schools.
As some readers have pointed out in previous years, our research score rewards large schools for their size. This is intentional. It is the huge numbers of scientists, engineers, and PhDs that larger universities produce, combined with their enormous amounts of research spending, that will help keep America competitive in an increasingly global economy. But the two measures of university research productivity and quality—faculty awards and National Academy members, relative to the number of full-time faculty (from the Center for Measuring University Performance)—are independent of a school’s size. This year’s guide continues to reward large universities for their research productivity, but these two additional measures also recognize smaller institutions that are doing a good job of producing quality research.