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IOWA CITY — Reversing some of its recent downturns, the University of Iowa has made among the biggest gains nationally in the “2022 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges” rankings made public today.
The UI had slipped last year from No. 84 among national universities to No. 88. But it jumped five spots to No. 83 in the new rankings — earning it recognition from U.S. News, which in its 37th year of ranking colleges evaluated 1,466 bachelor’s degree-granting institutions on 17 academic quality metrics.
“Also notable,” according to a U.S. News statement, “public schools that rose five places were Binghamton University-SUNY, Colorado School of Mines, University of California-Riverside and University of Iowa.”
Among only public and not private schools, the UI inched up one spot to No. 33 from No. 34, where it had been for two years. That No. 33 placement is five better than its No. 38 ranking in 2019 but not quite back to its 2018 ranking of No. 31.
The University of Northern Iowa also made gains this year in U.S. News’ regional Midwest rankings, from No. 24 to No. 19. It remained stable as the No. 2 public campus in the Midwest.
Iowa State University was the only of the three state institutions to slip in the rankings — dropping from No. 118 to No. 122 among all national universities and from No. 54 to No. 58 among just the public schools ranked nationally.
U.S. News, as it typically does annually, altered its ranking methodology slightly. This year, the publication minimized the penalty for institutions lacking SAT and ACT data for students “to reflect the decline of test submissions pertaining to the fall 2020 admissions cycle, which mostly predated the impact of COVID-19.”
The pandemic did, however, have some impact on this year’s rankings, relevance and methodology, which weights:
- 40 percent on outcomes — like indebtedness, social mobility, graduation rates and retention;
- 20 percent on faculty resources, including class sizes and student-faculty ratios;
- 20 percent on expert opinion based on president, provost and dean surveys;
- 10 percent on financial resources, including average spending per student;
- 7 percent on student excellence, including ACT and SAT scores;
- 3 percent on alumni giving.
“Students and faculty continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s through remote learning, mask-wearing or vaccine requirements,” Kim Castro, editor and chief content officer of U.S. News, said in a statement. None of Iowa’s public universities require either masks or vaccines. “As communities work through these challenges, U.S. News is committed to providing information on the academic quality of institutions across the country, so prospective students and their families can make informed decisions throughout their college search.”
While U.S. News sent its opinion surveys to schools in the spring and summer of 2021, the latest data available for many ranking calculations pertained to fall 2020 or earlier.
“Notably, SAT/ACT scores mostly reflect a test-taking period from 2019 to early 2020, before the effects of the coronavirus were felt in the United States,” according to a U.S. News release.
In addition to its general college and university rankings, U.S. News ranks institutions for things like ethnic and economic diversity and for specific programs — like writing, business and engineering.
None of Iowa’s public universities ranked among the best in ethnic or economic diversity.
But the UI for the second straight year was ranked the top writing program among public universities. Among all institutions — including private colleges like Harvard, Yale, Duke and Princeton — the UI, known for its world-renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Nonfiction Writing Program, ranked No. 10.
“We’ve long known Iowa’s excellence in writing is unparalleled, but it’s nice to be listed among other elites,” UI Provost Kevin Kregel said in a statement, noting, “Iowa’s writing-related resources benefit all our students, regardless of their field of study.
“Employers are looking for strong communicators in every field and Iowa students graduate with an advantage.”
In the U.S. News’ debut nursing program rankings, the UI earned the 10th spot overall — for, among other things, its “reputation for excellence,” according to university officials.
That “outstanding achievement,” said UI College of Nursing Dean Julie Zerwic, is the result of the college’s innovative teaching methods and opportunities afforded students to learn in hospitals, nursing homes, and public health agencies.
In the past three years, we have increased the number of BSN students admitted to the College of Nursing by 11 percent,“ she said. ”We recognize the need for nurses during this ongoing nursing shortage as well as the significant number of individuals who would like to enroll in the University of Iowa nursing program. “
ISU earned the second spot on the list of agricultural and biological programs.
All three often tout the rankings in their recruiting of students and faculty, and in their appeals to lawmakers for more state funding.
Although the campuses might see ranking fluctuations from year to year, their total U.S. News-assigned scores typically don’t waiver much annually — meaning shifts often depend on variances at other schools.
And the UI this year wasn’t the only Big Ten Conference university to make gains. Both Ohio State University-Columbus and Purdue University-West Lafayette jumped four spots to be tied at No. 49 — bringing them into the top 50 for the first time. And Indiana University-Bloomington saw the biggest improvement among the top 100 public schools, moving eight spots from No. 76 to No. 68.
“These Midwestern institutions have been gradually increasing their six-year graduation rates over time,” according to U.S. News.
“It’s gratifying to see improvement in the outcomes that matter most to our students and families, which is creating an environment that retains students and keeps them on path to graduating in four years,” UI President Barb Wilson said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in programs that help students achieve success during their time at Iowa and after they graduate.”
Metrics the UI lost ground in this year, despite the overall improvement, include its financial resources rank — which slipped from No. 76 in 2018 to No. 97 this year — and its average alumni giving, down from 10 to 6 percent.
Overall, the rankings show the top universities nationally are:
- Princeton University
- Columbia University
- Harvard University
The top public universities nationally are:
- University of California-Los Angeles
- University of California-Berkeley
- University of Michigan.
To read more about the rankings, visit U.S. News & World Report’s best colleges list.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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