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U.S. News & World Report ranks University No. 20

Robert Singer | Friday, August 28, 2009

Notre Dame fell two spots from No. 18 to No. 20 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 ranking of the top universities in the nation released on Aug. 20.

Harvard and Princeton tied for first, while Yale took third. The ranking placed the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania in a four-way tie for fourth.

Notre Dame dropped two spots this year because it received lower peer assessment ratings from other universities, which account for 25 percent of the overall rankings, said Dan Saracino, director of Undergraduate Admissions.

The peer assessment portion distributes surveys to three officials at each university – the provost, president and chief of Admissions – and asks them to rate other schools on a 5-point scale.

In addition to considering the opinions of other universities, the U.S. News & World Report ranking is also based on faculty strength and class size, graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, alumni giving rate and financial aid.

Saracino said that while the University takes note of the rankings, the administration does not base decisions on them.

“We don’t go about our business in admissions with a focus on the ranking or believe in gaming the system,” he said. “We like to be recognized as one of the top universities in the country, so if we weren’t in the top 20, that might be a concern. But we’re in the top 20. Does it occupy a great deal of attention in our daily work? Not at all.”

This year’s lower ranking should not deter next year’s applicants, according to Saracino.

“There has been research done that shows students don’t choose colleges because of rankings,” he said.

Saracino mentioned some positive aspects of Notre Dame that are not weighed by the ranking system, including financial stability and the percentage of students who graduate in four years.

“I think there are other things that should be looked at,” he said. “Given the economic situation in the country, I think it’s reasonable for parents to know what the financial stability of the institution. If the economy continues to sputter, will programs have to be cut?”

Notre Dame is one of only several universities on the list that has been awarded a triple-A credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service, Saracino said.

Saracino said the “Student Selectivity” criterion of the ranking system allows other universities to boost their scores in ways that do not enhance the quality of education they offer.

Because this portion rewards a lower acceptance rate, universities can increase their point total by encouraging students who have test scores below the minimum threshold for consideration to apply, Saracino said.

“This ranking system rewards those who act questionably,” he said.

University administrators also expressed criticism of how the rankings are calculated.

“While we recognize that the U.S. News & World Report survey serves a useful function for some prospective students and their parents, we are on record for more than 15 years as having reservations about its methodology,” University spokesman Dennis Brown said. “That said, by any measure, we believe Notre Dame belongs in the top 20 of any survey of undergraduate institutions.”