Texas' top universities saw mixed results in the U.S. News and World Report higher education rankings released Wednesday, with the University of Texas at Austin and Rice climbing on the list while Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, Baylor and Texas Christian universities dropped slightly.
Overall, the order of Texas schools stayed the same. Rice, at 18th, is easily the best school in the state, according to the news magazine, while UT-Austin tops the public schools at 52nd. Last year, Rice ranked 19th and UT-Austin was 53rd.
The next four Texas schools all dropped. SMU finished 61st, down from 58th last year; Texas A&M came in 70th, down from 68th; Baylor dropped from 71st to 72nd; and TCU dropped six slots from 76th to 82nd.
The U.S. News rankings are highly controversial, with some higher education experts arguing that they don't measure academic quality, or that schools try to manipulate the numbers used to compile the rankings. But the list is nonetheless the most closely watched and influential ranking of colleges in the country.
Texas A&M officials choose to tout other rankings. The Aggies were listed as 20th by Money Magazine among national universities that provide the best value. Washington Monthly ranked the school third in the country among schools that provide for "the public good."
UT-Austin, meanwhile, fares much better each year in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. This year, it finished 28th — 41 spots ahead of Rice — on a list that included schools from Britain, Canada, Australia and the rest of the world.
UT-Dallas was the biggest climber in the U.S. News rankings this year, rising from 145th to 140th. Texas Tech had the biggest drop. It ranked 156th last year, compared to 168th this year. The only other school on the top 200 list was the University of Houston, which rose two spots to 187th.
The exact formula for the rankings is kept secret, but the magazine considers a slew of factors ranging from alumni giving and SAT scores to graduation rates and freshman retention.
The top 18 schools in the rankings are all private schools. Princeton finished number one, followed by Harvard and Yale.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Rice University and Southern Methodist University were corporate sponsors in 2013. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.