Iowa universities see mixed results in new U.S. News rankings

The latest edition of the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings, which was released on Monday, has brought significant changes to the methodology and the outcomes for Iowa’s public universities. The new rankings place a greater emphasis on social mobility and graduation rates, while removing some factors that favored wealth and prestige. As a result, some Iowa universities have improved their positions, while others have dropped.

UI falls to lowest rank in a decade

The University of Iowa (UI), which had climbed from No. 88 to No. 83 last year among national universities, fell to No. 93 on the new list, which is the lowest rank for UI in at least a decade. Among public universities nationally, UI slipped from No. 35 to No. 47, which is also nearly 20 spots below its No. 29 spot in 2013.

Iowa universities see mixed results in new U.S. News rankings
Iowa universities see mixed results in new U.S. News rankings

UI President Barbara Wilson said in a statement that the ranking changes do not reflect the quality and excellence of the university, which remains the same as before. She said that formulas can be altered by an outside organization, but UI is still an exceptional research-intensive, comprehensively strong, Big Ten university.

ISU and UNI see gains in regional rankings

Iowa State University (ISU) and the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) appeared to benefit from the new methodology, as they both saw increases in their regional rankings. ISU improved its national ranking by 12 spots, from No. 127 to No. 115, while UNI rose from No. 17 to No. 11 among regional universities in the Midwest.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen said in a news release that she is proud of the university’s performance in the new rankings, which reflect its commitment to student success and social mobility. She said that ISU is focused on providing access and opportunity to students from all backgrounds, while offering high-quality education and research.

UNI President Mark Nook said in a statement that the new rankings show that UNI is one of the best regional universities in the country, with a strong reputation for academic excellence and student outcomes. He said that UNI is dedicated to serving the needs of Iowa and beyond, with innovative programs and partnerships.

New metrics favor social mobility and outcomes

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings are one of the most influential sources of information for prospective students and their families, who use them to compare and select colleges and universities. This year, the rankings underwent the most significant methodological change in their history, following widespread criticism of their bias towards wealth and prestige.

According to U.S. News officials, more than 50 percent of an institution’s rank now comprises varying outcome measures related to success in enrolling and graduating students from all backgrounds with manageable debt and post-graduate success. Additionally, five factors were removed: class size, faculty with terminal degrees, alumni giving, high school class standing and the proportion of graduates who borrow federal loans.

The new methodology also introduced two new factors: graduate indebtedness and graduate rate performance for Pell-awarded students. The former measures how much debt graduates have at graduation relative to their peers, while the latter compares the actual graduation rate of Pell-awarded students with the expected rate based on various characteristics.

The new metrics are intended to capture how well colleges and universities serve economically disadvantaged students, who are often underrepresented and underserved in higher education.

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