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The Syllabus: The U.S. News college rankings for 2021

The Syllabus: The U.S. News college rankings for 2021

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Princeton University file

Holder Tower sits atop Holder Hall at Princeton University in New Jersey.

The U.S. News & World Report college rankings came out today, and I'll be doggoned if I see much change from last year's lists. All the local and area schools, plus some of the higher-profile N.C. schools, all appear to be more or less in their usual spots.

Here are the U.S. News ranks, here's the magazine's news release, and here's the methodology. (More on that later.) I've highlighted a few schools below. If you don't see your school here, go back to the previous sentence and find it yourself. I don't mean to be crabby about the whole thing but there are 50+ four-year institutions in this state and just one of me, and I'm really busy today.

If you want to read more about each school, click the link in their name. I've linked to a press release if I found one.

OK, let's do this:

National universities: Duke is 12th, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest are 28th, N.C. State is 80th, Elon is 88th, East Carolina is 217th, UNCG is 258th and N.C. A&T is 272nd. The full U.S. News list is here.

National public universities: If you take out the Ivys, Duke and MIT, the state schools rank a lot higher. UNC-CH is in its perennial No. 5 spot among public universities. N.C. State is 32nd. UNCG is 126th. A&T is 136th. 

Regional universities: Appalachian State is sixth among regional universities in the South. Winston-Salem State is 59th.

Regional colleges: High Point University is the top regional college in the South for the ninth straight year. Greensboro College is 36th.

National liberal arts colleges: Davidson College (15th) is the highest-ranked N.C. school on this list. Salem College (140th), Guilford College (155th) and Bennett College (unranked) are listed here, too.

HBCUs: Spelman College in Atlanta is the nation's top school in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities category. A&T and Florida A&M tied for both seventh overall and first among public HBCUs.

What's new this year? The U.S. News rankings put a little more emphasis on outcomes this year and took a little away from inputs. Outcomes — generally student retention, graduation and social mobility — went to 40 percent of a school's score from 35 percent the year before by adding a new measure of graduate indebtedness. This new number looks at the average amount of federal loan debt among the class of 2019 (undergrads only) and the percentage of 2019 grads who took out student loans.

To pump five points into the outcomes category, U.S. News drained three points from admissions selectivity (from 10 percent to 7 percent of a school's overall score) and two points from alumni giving (from 5 to 3 percent).

An alternative: If you're looking for rankings that examine some of the same data differently and come to somewhat different conclusions, Washington Monthly published its annual look at colleges late last month. According to Washington Monthly, the U.S. News rankings rely "on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity and prestige" while its lists measure schools "based on their contribution to the public good." OK then! If you want something else, there are a ton of other college rankings out there.

My annual reminder: College rankings are a fine place to start a college search, but they're a lousy reason to pick one school over another. Do some research, talk to people who have been there and make up your own mind. And if you don't like it, transfer. 

Staff writer John Newsom covers higher education for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.

Have something to say about this blog post? Email him at You can also follow him on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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