A note on methodology: 4-year colleges and universities.


There are two primary goals to our methodology. First, we considered no single category to be more important than any other. Second, the final rankings needed to reflect excellence across the full breadth of our measures, rather than reward an exceptionally high focus on, say, research. Thus, all three main categories were weighted equally when calculating the final score. In order to ensure that each measurement contributed equally to a college's score within any given category, we standardized each data element so that each had a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. The data was also adjusted to account for statistical outliers. No college's performance in any single area was allowed to exceed five standard deviations from the mean of the data set. All measures use an average of the three most recent years of data in an effort to get a better picture of a college's performance rather than statistical noise. Thanks to rounding, some colleges have the same overall score. We have ranked them according to their pre-rounding results.

To establish the set of colleges included in the rankings, we started with the 1,863 colleges in the fifty states that are listed in the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and have a 2015 Carnegie basic classification of research, master's, baccalaureate, and baccalaureate/associate's colleges, are not exclusively graduate colleges, participate in federal financial aid programs, and plan to be open in fall 2016. As the Carnegie classifications were updated this year for the first time in five years, some colleges switched categories or moved into or out of our sample. This represents the first major update to our ranking categories since 2011. We then excluded 356 baccalaureate and baccalaureate/associate's-level colleges which reported that at least half of the undergraduate degrees awarded in 2012 were below the bachelor's-degree level, as well as eighteen colleges with fewer than 100 undergraduate students in any year they were open between fall 2012 and fall 2014, and an additional seventy-eight colleges with fewer than fifty students in the federal graduation rate cohort (first-time, full-time students) between 2012 and 2014.

Next, we decided to exclude the five federal military academies (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and Navy) because their unique missions make them difficult to evaluate using our methodology. Our rankings are...

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