U.S. News & World Report on Wednesday issued its annual rankings of the country's colleges and universities. For those who followed last year's list, this year's results may seem like a bit of déjà vu.
Once again, the only Texas institutions in the top 50 on the list of the country's best national universities are Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin. The former is ranked 17th, as it was last year, and the latter is ranked 46th, which is a small slip from 45th last year.
Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University saw a bit more movement as they virtually swapped places. Last year, A&M was 58th and SMU was 62nd. This year, SMU is 58th and A&M is 65th.
Baylor University fell slightly from 75th to 77th, Texas Christian University rose from 97th to 92nd, the University of Texas at Dallas fell from 143rd to 151st, and Texas Tech University fell from 160th to 165th. The University of Houston rounds out the Texas schools in this year's top 200, coming in at 184th.
U.S. News analysts Robert Morse and Sam Flanigan write that the rankings "allow you to compare at a glance the relative quality of institutions based on such widely accepted indicators of excellence as freshman retention, graduation rates, and the strength of the faculty."
Of course, the U.S. News & World Report's rankings are as controversial as they are influential. Last year, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes told legislators, "The only thing I pay attention to [in them] is peer assessment. I don't think the other metrics U.S. News & World Report uses are accurate or meaningful."
Over the years, other rankings have cropped up attempting to provide an alternative to U.S. News.
When Washington Monthly released its college rankings last month, Daniel Luzer, one of the magazine's writers, explained the difference this way: "While U.S. News & World Report relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige for its rankings, the Washington Monthly rates schools based on what they are doing for their students and the country."
Public universities post higher scores in the Washington Monthly rankings than U.S. News, and some institutions that don't even appear on the latter excel in the former. For example, the University of Texas at El Paso is unranked in U.S. News, but it is 12th in the country according to Washington Monthly's metric, which emphasizes social mobility, research and service. Similarly, A&M shoots up to second best in the country, which is a far cry from 65th.
With a growing variety of rankings, schools can pick and choose which to celebrate and which to ignore. A&M officials, who naturally lauded the Washington Monthly list when it came out, still found news worth celebrating in the U.S. News results, though. They are 19th overall and the second public university in the U.S. News list of "Best Value Schools."
A&M President R. Bowen Loftin issued a statement saying, "Overall, there are obviously many measures of what constitutes a great university, but we are delighted that the editors of the magazine acknowledge that Texas A&M continues to stand out as an institution that is among the very best nationally for offering a high-quality education at an affordable cost."