Williams has once again topped the U.S. News & World Report ranking for the Best National Liberal Arts Colleges. The 2014 ranking assesses the country’s 248 liberal arts colleges based on over 16 factors, with each factor weighted differently. Williams has held on to its first place rank on the list for four years now, topping Amherst in second place and Swarthmore in third. Previously, the Ephs had been tied with the Jeffs for the No. 1 spot.
The list is fairly similar to last year’s rankings, although Bowdoin moved up from its sixth-place spot in the 2013 ranking to tie for fourth place with Middlebury and Pomona in 2014. While little change was seen among the colleges which earned top rankings, several schools did see considerable movement this year, due in part to changes in the U.S. News methodology and weighting. Holy Cross rose from 32nd place to 25th, and Pitzer jumped a total of eight spots, finishing in 35th place.
U.S. News made a few fundamental changes to its ranking system this year, reflecting the changing national attitudes toward what constitutes a successful institution of higher education. Graduation and retention rates are now weighed more heavily than they previously were. Further, the importance of students’ high school standings was decreased. This change embodies what Forbes calls a new focus on college “output” instead of “input.” Changes in rankings reveal a new focus on what students are getting out of their education, replacing a previous focus on selectivity metrics such as SAT scores or the class ranks of students entering college.
In the Forbes rankings, which were calculated in July, Williams was ranked No. 9 overall and No. 8 among private colleges. This presented a significant drop from its No. 2 spot last year and its No. 1 spot in 2011. The top spot went to Stanford this year, with Pomona coming in second and Princeton placing third. An important difference between the two lists is that Forbes includes national universities, instead of focusing solely on liberal arts colleges.
“It’s great to be considered among the best colleges and universities in the country,” James Kolesar ’72, Vice President for Public Affairs, said. “But no methodology can support the ordinal ranking of them. Trying to discern meaning from small changes in rank is thus a hollow exercise, especially when methodologies change over time. Nonetheless, our consistently high rankings have no doubt benefited Williams.”