Making the Grade

University of Texas at Austin toppled as No. 1 school in the state, says new report

University of Texas at Austin toppled as No. 1 school in the state

University of Texas UT tower and fountain
U.S. News & World Report's 2019 Best Colleges ranking puts UT in second place.

Plot twist! Nearly a year after U.S. News & World Report rightfully crowned the University of Texas at Austin the No. 1 school in the state (and the 32nd best school in the entire world) among Best Global Universities, the magazine's latest rankings have UT in the second spot behind Rice University. 

On September 10, the prestigious publication released its anticipated 2019 Best Colleges report, an analysis of more than 1,800 schools across the country. UT ranked No. 2 in Texas and No. 49 in the nation, tying with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Wisconsin — Madison, and Villanova University. Rice ranked No. 16 in the nation.

So how does the same publication rank UT as best in the state in one ranking and the second best in another? The reason for the two different outcomes lies in how the data was weighted for the two rankings.

In creating the 2019 Best Colleges ranking, U.S News placed particular emphasis on student outcomes, analyzing everything from freshmen retention numbers to graduation rates of low-income students. In comparison, U.S. News researchers compiling last year's Best Global Universities rankings placed more importance on academic outcomes including professional reputation and numbers of publications produced annually. 

In 2018, Rice had a 4-year graduation rate of 83 percent and a freshmen retention rate of 97 percent, earning it the No. 1 spot in Texas and No. 16 in the nation. Compare that to UT's graduation rate of 58 percent and freshmen retention rate of 95 percent, and the difference between the two rankings is a bit clearer. 

As college becomes increasingly expensive, analyzing student outcomes is critical, says the publication. "A university is not successful if it does not graduate its students, which is why the Best Colleges rankings place the greatest value on outcomes, including graduation and retention rates," said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, in a release

Nationwide, the top schools leaned heavily towards the Ivy League. Princeton University was crowned the best university in the nation followed by Harvard University (No. 2). Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, and Yale University all tied for third.

In Texas, Southern Methodist University (No. 3), Texas A&M University (No. 4), and Baylor University (No. 5) rounded out the top five spots. Locally, Southwestern University came in 12th in Texas while St. Edward's University took the 16th spot.