U.S. News & World Report ranks UST in ‘America’s Best Colleges’ survey

U.S. News & World Report magazine again has ranked the University of St. Thomas in the third tier of its National Universities category in the magazine’s 2009 "America’s Best Colleges" survey.

U.S. News announced the rankings Friday, Aug. 22. They will be available in the publication’s newsstand book, America’s Best Colleges, and in the Sept. 1 issue of U.S. News & World Report. Both should be available on local newsstands early this week.

Last year St. Thomas also was listed in the third tier of the National Universities category, with schools ranked 131st to 187th and not ranked numerically. This year the third tier includes schools ranked 134th to 188th.

St. Thomas also appeared on the magazine’s list of schools whose class of 2007 graduated with the heaviest debt load. In the National Universities category, St. Thomas was 11th with an average of $33,499 borrowed by those students who incurred debt. Data also showed that 62 percent of the class graduated with debt. Seton Hall graduates had the highest average debt, $41,378, and two other Minnesota schools, St. Scholastica and Hamline, finished in the top five, with debt averages higher than $30,000, among master’s institutions.

This is the eighth year that U.S. News has classified St. Thomas in the National Universities category. Prior to 2001, St. Thomas was ranked among Midwest regional universities. The reclassification occurred because of the number of doctorates that St. Thomas confers.

U.S. News’ ranking system relies on selected indicators of academic quality: peer assessment, retention and graduation rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving. Below are St. Thomas data of interest in these categories:

  • Peer assessment (25 percent of overall score): Our score was 2.4 (on a 1-5 scale, with 5 highest), a tenth lower than last year.
  • Retention (20 percent): This indicator includes six-year graduation rate and freshman retention rate. Our graduation rate (71 percent) is down from 74 percent last year, but our retention rate (88 percent) has improved slightly over last year’s rate of 87 percent.
  • Graduation rate performance (5 percent): This indicator, tied to the previous one, shows the effect of programs and policies on the graduation rate of students after controlling for spending and student characteristics such as the proportion receiving Pell grants and test scores. The difference is measured between a school’s six-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2001 and the predicted rate for the class. Our predicted rate for 2007 was 69 percent and our actual was 71 percent, meaning we "overperformed." St. Thomas has had similar "overperformance" scores over the last five years.
  • Faculty resources (20 percent): Several factors from the 2007-08 academic year are used to assess a school’s commitment to instruction: class size, faculty salaries, the proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields, student-faculty ratio and proportion of faculty who are full time. The magazine didn’t provide statistics for all of the factors, so it is not possible at this time to give actual comparisons for this indicator.
  • Student selectivity (15 percent): Test-score averages for entering students remained about the same. The percentage of freshmen in the top 10 percent of their high school class (2007) is higher, 21 percent, than was reported last year (19 percent), but lags behind the of the classes entering in 2005 (23 percent) and 2004 (22 percent). Our acceptance rate was lower than the previous year.
  • Financial resources (10 percent): This indicator measures the average spending per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in FY06 and FY07. Comparative data were not provided.
  • Alumni giving (5 percent): Our giving rate – the average percentage of undergraduate alumni who gave to St. Thomas during FY06 and FY07 – dropped to 15 percent this year after two years at 16 percent. But it’s still higher than the 14 percent reported three years ago and 13 percent four years ago.

There are 262 American universities (164 public and 98 private) in the National Universities category. These schools offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as master’s and doctoral degrees.

Harvard was No. 1, followed by Princeton and Yale. The only other Minnesota schools in this category were the University of Minnesota, tied for No. 61, and St. Mary’s University of Minnesota ( Winona), which was listed in the fourth tier.

Numerically ranked Catholic universities in this category were Notre Dame (t-18), Georgetown (t-23), Boston College (34), Fordham (t-61), Marquette (t-77), St. Louis University (t-80), San Diego (t-102), Dayton (t-108), Catholic U and Loyola of Chicago (t-116), University of San Francisco (t-127) and Duquesne (t-130).

Other Catholic universities (in addition to St. Thomas) listed in the third tier of the National Universities category were DePaul in Illinois, Seton Hall in New Jersey and St. John’s in New York.

U.S. News has three other institutional categories:

Liberal Arts Colleges: These 265 liberal arts colleges emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half their degrees in the arts and sciences. Following No. 1 Amherst were Minnesota’s Carleton (8), Macalester (t-25), St. Olaf (t-47), St. John’s (t-71), St. Benedict (t-84) and Gustavus Adolphus (t-88). Concordia-Moorhead and the University of Minnesota-Morris are both in the third tier.

Universities-Master’s: These 572 universities are ranked in four regions and provide a full range of undergraduate and master’s programs but few, if any, doctoral programs. In the Midwest, Creighton was No. 1, and Minnesota schools were Hamline (9), St. Catherine (14), Bethel (16), St. Scholastica (t-22), Augsburg (25), University of Minnesota-Duluth (t-45), Winona State (t-51) and Bemidji State (t-67). Concordia-St. Paul, Mankato, Moorhead and St. Cloud State were listed in the third tier, and Metro State and Southwest Minnesota State were in the fourth.

Baccalaureate Colleges: These 319 colleges are ranked in four regions and focus on undergraduate education; they award less than half of their degrees in the liberal arts. Minnesota’s Northwestern was 16th; Crown and U of M-Crookston were in the third tier; North Central was in the fourth.