The 2019 undergraduate rankings by U.S. News & World Report were released Monday and significant changes in the ranking’s methodology resulted in greater shifts than usual for some of the nation’s top-ranked colleges and universities, including William & Mary.
Among 2018’s top-50 universities, seven saw drops of five or more places in the 2019 rankings. By contrast, from the 2017 to 2018 rankings, only one top-50 university saw a decline of that magnitude.
The good news is that William & Mary remains one of the best universities in the nation for undergraduate teaching — and one of the top schools overall. The magazine ranks W&M fifth in the nation for undergraduate teaching, up from seventh in last year’s report. W&M is ranked third among all public universities for undergraduate teaching. The university also tied for 32nd in a ranking based on feedback from high school counselors, up from 35th a year ago.
In addition, W&M is the top-ranked public institution for alumni giving among leading universities and continues to move up in that category, ranking 17th overall, thanks to the momentum of the For the Bold campaign. That’s up from 18th a year ago, 35th in 2011, the first year of the campaign, and 43rd in 2009. Contributing to this success is William & Mary’s consistent performance as the No. 1 nationally ranked public university for undergraduate alumni participation. In FY12, the university had a 23.6 percent participation rate. Today it is 28.7 percent. By comparison, among all the schools that reported alumni giving data to U.S. News, the average was 11.6 percent in 2017.
“While many schools are seeing significant drops in alumni giving, William & Mary continues to buck that trend,” said Vice President for University Advancement Matthew Lambert. “Alumni investment in alma mater provides one measure of the confidence graduates have in the university and its future direction.”
While the university saw positive movement in undergraduate teaching and alumni giving, changes in methodology appear to have significantly affected William & Mary's overall ranking. The 2019 guide ranks William & Mary 10th among public colleges and 38th among all national universities. Last year, W&M ranked sixth among public universities and tied for 32nd among national universities.
The shift in some of the standings can be attributed to a change in U.S. News’ methodology for this year, which de-emphasized certain factors, such as graduation and retention rates, and emphasized others, such as Pell Grant recipients, according to Provost Michael R. Halleran. Because of that change, this year’s rankings cannot be compared directly to last year’s, and many of the top 50 universities saw similar or even greater declines in rank, he added.
“The rules changed this year, and we are seeing the impact,” Halleran said. “It is satisfying that W&M continues to be recognized among the best for undergraduate teaching. Overall, we remain among the top institutions.
“We also realize that no one ranking can fully capture all that the university has to offer. That said, we know rankings matter to people who matter to us, and we want them to capture the quality of our education. The reality is that a move up or down won’t change the fact that William & Mary offers one of the very best academic experiences in the country.”
The addition of a social mobility metric to the U.S. News’ methodology seems to be the factor that caused many of the changes to W&M’s rankings. The social mobility metric evaluates a school’s success in graduating students who have received Pell Grants, adjusted for the percentage of Pell Grant recipients within the student body. Accounting for five percent of the overall ranking formula, this new metric looks at the graduation rate of Pell recipients (2.5 percent) and that graduation rate compared to that of all other students (another 2.5 percent).
Though William & Mary has among the best graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients — 89 percent within six years, which is 38 percentage points above the national average — the enrollment of Pell Grant recipients is less than at many universities.
The university has successfully worked to expand the number of Pell Grant recipients on campus in recent years and has seen a more than 30 percent increase since 2014, said Halleran. The percentage of in-state Pell Grant recipient students in the Class of 2021 (16 percent) is similar to that of other highly selective universities.
However, W&M sees a need for increased aid to out-of-state students with Pell Grants, who make up 5 percent of the latest out-of-state undergraduate freshman class.
“William & Mary is not able, at this time, to meet the full financial need for out-of-state students,” said Halleran. “This is a real concern and one of the reasons our For the Bold campaign’s top priority is scholarship support for both in-state and out-of-state students.
“Ultimately, increasing further the socioeconomic diversity of William & Mary will require stronger financial aid resources that enable us to provide financial aid packages for out out-of-state students more comparable to what we can currently arrange for in-state students. While we must realize this will take time — this is not something that changes overnight — it is something we are committed to doing.”
Even with progress to be made, W&M is among the nation’s leading colleges and universities when it comes to a commitment to access and affordability for low- and middle-income students, according to a report last year from the New York Times.
The Times’ annual College Access Index (CAI) looked at three factors: percentage of students who qualify for Pell Grants, graduation rates and the net price for low- and middle-income students. Only 170 schools met the standards to make it to the CAI. W&M ranked 15th among the nation’s public colleges and universities and 56th overall. And the CAI ranked W&M the No. 1 public university in Virginia.
W&M was also listed in several recent rankings, including one from the Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education, released on the WSJ site Sept. 5. W&M ranked 87th among the 968 U.S. universities in that report, up from 100th last year. W&M ranked 20th out of the 268 institutions in the south region. Also, in a report from the Princeton Review released in early August 2018, W&M ranked first for happiest students, second on the “Their Students Love These Colleges” list and second on the list of schools with “Lots of Race/Class Interaction.” W&M also ranked on the lists for: “Most Beautiful Campus” (fifth), “Most Popular Study Abroad Program” (6th), “Most Engaged in Community Service” (7th), “Best Quality of Life” (8th), “Best College Library” (13th), “Best Science Lab Facilities” (13th), LGBTQ-Friendly (13th), “Best Career Services” (19th) and “Best College Theater” (20th).
With so many rankings and so much variations in methodologies, however, Halleran cautioned to take the results – good or bad – with a grain of salt.
“Rankings can provide helpful information to both universities and future students,” he said. “We want to fare well in them, and if you look at the national composite of the different lists, you’ll find William & Mary included in nearly all of them. However, William & Mary’s goals are not tied to landing a certain place on a list, but to providing the best education, college experience and lifelong community possible for our students.”