7 Quick Takeaways From the New 2016 U.S. News & World Report College Rankings

USnews!Hot off the presses, the much-awaited U.S. News & World Report college rankings have arrived for 2016, and in stunning news…well, there’s not much stunning news. Princeton hasn’t gone the way of ITT Tech (New Jersey’s Ivy remains #1 for the sixth straight year), and the biggest “out of nowhere” story is that Villanova, now ranked 50th for national universities, took that perch having been reclassified from a “regional university” in years prior.

Still, there are always interesting trends and takeaways to be had from the slow-changing, well-respected rankings. Here are seven that caught our team’s eye:

1) The Central (Time)-ization of Higher Ed.
The typical Harvard/Princeton/Yale top 3 was cracked by a school outside the Eastern time zone…and no, it wasn’t Stanford. The University of Chicago moved up from 4th to tie for 3rd (with Yale), moving the nation’s “medal podium” slightly west this year. This continues a big surge for U. Chicago in recent years, having moved up from as far back as 9th in 2010.

Another big mover was Rice, jumping from 18th to 15th. The sum? A total of 6 schools – U. Chicago, Northwestern, Rice, Notre Dame, Washington University St. Louis, and Vanderbilt – in the Central Time Zone made the Top 15. (Alas, those Central-timers celebrating the notion of having 40% of the Top 15 should be careful: because of ties, a total of 18 schools can consider themselves in the Top 15, as well.)

2) USC beats UCLA
In the rankings’ most dynamic intra-city rivalry, USC finally moved a step ahead of UCLA, staying at 23 while the Bruins dropped ever-so-slightly to 24th. Last year the rivals were locked at 23, whereas the previous year saw UCLA a spot head of USC.

The other major intra-city rivalries stayed static, with Harvard safely above MIT, U. Chicago safely over Northwestern, and Columbia comfortably ahead of NYU.

3) It’s Good to Be A Bostonian…
Boston University and Northeastern each cracked the Top 40 this year (tied at 39), bringing the number of Boston schools with that distinction to 7. Harvard and MIT stayed in their usual Top 10 places, with Tufts (27th), Boston College (31st), and Brandeis (34th) also staying in that Top 40.

4) …or an Upstate New Yorker
While Columbia leads the way for all New York-based schools at #5, four other New York schools make the Top 40, with three of them coming from upstate. Cornell, naturally, leads that group at #15, and both the University of Rochester (32nd) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (39th, in Troy), also earned that distinction.

5) The Public Option
With the exception of UC-Berkeley, each of the 22 schools with a Top 20 designation is a private school with a stated price tag of over $43,000. But once that list gets into the 20s, plenty of public schools with in-state tuition costs under $20,000 enter the mix: Berkeley, UCLA, Virginia, Michigan, and North Carolina all make the Top 30, with William & Mary, Georgia Tech, UC-Santa Barbara, and UC-Irvine ranking in the Top 40 at less than half the tuition cost of their private counterparts.

6) For Better Or Worse, Your Test Scores Will Matter
In the standard table view, the US News & World Report shows four statistics: tuition cost, undergraduate enrollment, SAT scores, and ACT scores (the range for the 25th percentile through the 75th percentile). And as you scan down the list, you’ll fisand that you have to get all the way to the 20th-ranked school (Emory) to find a middle 50% ACT range that isn’t entirely in the 30s (Emory’s is 29-33), and that only one of the top 15 schools (Dartmouth) has a middle 50% SAT range that includes scores below 1350.

As long as there are rankings that are based on quantitative data, standardized test scores will be a major way for schools to rise (or fall) in those rankings. It therefore follows that admissions officers will be looking for applicants whose stats can help them rise, so prospective students to highly-ranked schools should take their test preparation seriously.

7) Money Matters, Too
Seven of the Top 10 ranked schools are also in the U.S. News’ 2015 rankings for largest university endowments. When you see that Princeton has access to over $20 billion and Harvard holds over $36 billion, is it any wonder that these schools consistently top the U.S. university rankings? We’ll give a special shout out to Johns Hopkins, which managed its Top 10 ranking despite having “just” $3.4 billion in its coffers! Whether you think that’s puny or not, the fact is that all of these schools have the means to hire brilliant professors and give them access to world-class tools and facilities… Here’s hoping that they continue to invest in improving access to education and finding endless advances in all disciplines.

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By Scott Shrum and Brian Galvin.

Another Public Interest Bump, Courtesy of USC Law

In what is becoming a sensation sweeping the (law school) nation, USC has overhauled its public interest loan forgiveness program. This is the second such move by an elite law school in the past month (read about Michigan’s big changes here) and comes on the heels of Harvard’s BIG announcement last fall that it would be providing free 3L tuition for law students committing to public interest.

As previously opined on this blog, these public interest bumps are often just big public relations moved cloaked in altruism, but the USC announcment, coupled with the Michigan announcement, seems to suggest actual effort to make public interest more viable for talented law school graduates. In USC’s case, the law school isn’t simply showcasing more money in the pipeline or dangling a shinier carrot at starry-eyed law school applicants; rather by removing a “salary cap,” the USC is enabling more government and public interest attorneys to access the loan forgiveness program. This speaks to graduates and current students more than it does applicants, which almost automatically makes it more valid.

Congratulations to USC for a subtle, but extremely helpful infusion of public interest dollars.