2. Academic quality is assessed, using data gathered primarily from three major sources
The magazine collects data via surveys sent to the colleges themselves, to faculty members and administrators who are from different colleges, and from high school counselors. It also uses data collected from the colleges' websites. There are as many as 16 indicators of academic quality, which fall into a number of categories:
- Undergraduate academic reputation. Data collected from surveys of presidents, provosts, deans of admissions, and high school and college counselors counts for between 22.5 percent and 25 percent of the academic quality assessment.
- Retention rate of freshmen. The rate at which freshmen return to campus sophomore year and eventually graduate counts for between 20 percent and 25 percent, depending on the type of the institution.
- Faculty resources. The amount of face time students get with professors, class size, and faculty salary count for 20 percent.
- Student selectivity. Enrolled students’ SAT or Composite ACT scores, their high school class ranks, and the institution's acceptance rate together count for 15 percent.
- Financial resources. The average amount a student spends on instruction, research, student services, and related educational expenses counts for 10 percent.
- Graduation rate. The predicted graduation rate of classes counts for 7.5 percent for national universities and national liberal arts colleges only.
- Alumni giving. The average annual percentage of alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school counts for 5 percent.
3. Schools are ranked in their category by a total weighted score
The rankings are published every year in lists on the U.S. News & World Report website (and, of course, in its print magazine). Though the methodology may boggle the mind of the average citizen, the process has its critics, many of whom argue it is too superficial or weights the wrong things.
Here’s the list of the 2011 Top 20 "national universities." (For those who need help recognizing the Ivy League schools, look for the asterisks.)