The University of St. Thomas continues to move up in the annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

St. Thomas ranks No. 115 among 268 schools in the National Universities category of the “America’s Best Colleges” survey, an improvement from No. 124 a year ago and No. 137 in 2009. The ranking is the highest in the 11 years that St. Thomas has been included in that category.

“We are pleased that our efforts to provide an exceptional education have been recognized,” said Father Dennis Dease, president. “At the same time, I want to emphasize that our decisions have never been driven by rankings but by our commitment to the continuous improvement of the quality of a St. Thomas education.”

U.S. News announced the rankings today (Tuesday). They will be published on the magazine’s website and in the 2012 print edition of the “Best Colleges” guidebook, which will be available Sept. 20 on newsstands.

The magazine’s published findings do not explain why St. Thomas jumped nine places in the rankings, which are based on seven indicators: undergraduate academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, graduation rate performance, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

Schools are placed in the National Universities category because they offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral degrees. St. Thomas tied for No. 115 with Howard, Michigan Tech and Washington State and finished ahead of several other well-known Catholic universities: Duquesne, Loyola of Chicago and San Francisco (all No. 119), DePaul and Seton Hall (both No. 132) and St. John’s of New York (No. 152). The only other Minnesota schools in the category are the University of Minnesota (No. 68) and St. Mary’s University (No. 177).

All other Minnesota colleges, including Catholic universities such as St. Catherine and St. John’s, are in one of three other institutional categories: 252 National Liberal Arts Colleges, which emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences; 626 Regional Universities, which provide a full range of undergraduate and master’s programs but few if any doctoral programs; and 371 Regional Colleges, which focus on undergraduate education and award less than half of their degrees in the liberal arts.

St. Thomas also appears in three other U.S. News surveys:

  • School of Engineering undergraduate program. It is rated No. 51 among 193 schools that offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees but not doctorates. The survey was based solely on peer assessment – deans ranking each others’ programs – and only schools with accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) were eligible.
  • High school guidance counselors. St. Thomas tied for No. 80. U.S. News surveyed 1,787 counselors. Half of them were asked to rate the academic programs of the 268 schools in the National Universities category and the other half the 252 schools in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category. Twenty-one percent of the counselors responded, and St. Thomas ranked No. 80 (along with 19 other schools, including Indiana, Loyola of Chicago and St. Louis).
  • A-Plus School for B Students. For the second consecutive year, St. Thomas made this list, along with 85 other schools in the National Universities category.

The magazine said it sought to identify schools “where non-superstars have a decent shot at being accepted and thriving – where spirit and hard work could make all the difference.” Its methodology in determining “A-Plus Schools” was that they had to admit a “meaningful” proportion of students whose test scores and class standing put them in non-“A” territory. In fall 2010, St. Thomas’ freshman class had an average high school GPA of 3.5, and 55 percent were in the top 25 percent of their graduating class.

Other regional “A-Plus” schools cited in the National Universities category included Iowa, Iowa State, Marquette, North Dakota, North Dakota State and St. Mary’s.