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U reaches top 10 in new Wall Street Journal rankings

Is it possible the University of Utah has already achieved President Taylor Randall’s top 10 goal? By one measure, perhaps.

The Wall Street Journal released its latest round of rankings of U.S. universities this week, placing the U at No. 8 among public schools. Overall, the university ranked No. 43 nationally.

The new rankings—the College Pulse 2024 Best Colleges—focus on university outcomes: the price of attendance, on-time graduation rates, how much graduates earn at their jobs and student experiences on campus, including food, housing, social life and diversity.

The newspaper’s methodology places the U above traditional top 10 public universities, including the University of California, Berkeley. Utah higher education institutions as a whole performed well in the rankings. In-state private peer institution Brigham Young University ranked No. 20 overall. Other Utah schools ranked:

  • Weber State University—No. 125 among public universities and No. 267 overall.
  • Utah Valley University—No. 132 among public universities and No. 278 overall.
  • Utah State University—No. 139 among public universities and No. 293 overall.

The Journal rankings are likely to challenge the longstanding—and often criticized—rating system developed over decades by U.S. News & World Report. By U.S. News’ latest metrics released Monday, the U ranks No. 58 among public universities and ties for No. 115 overall with Brigham Young University. Specific college programs fare better in U.S. News’ rankings, including the David Eccles School of Business’ entrepreneurship program (No. 7 overall and No. 4 among public universities), the Utah Division of Games at the College of Engineering (No. 3 overall and No. 1 among publics), and the College of Nursing’s Nurse-Midwifery Program (No. 11).

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The Journal has calculated university rankings since 2016, but this year, the newspaper’s methodology changed, using statistical modeling to try to gauge how much a university boosted a student’s job performance after graduation beyond what might be expected. The rankings were limited to 400 institutions nationwide; for-profit schools, those with total enrollments under 900 students, and colleges which do not award bachelor’s degrees were left out of the analysis.

According to the Journal’s Sept. 6 article about the rankings: “Some college-ranking methodologies tend to have the effect of splitting universities into the haves and the have-nots by evaluating the resources a college has at its disposal. The new WSJ/College Pulse ranking uses the most recent available data to put colleges on a more level playing field, with a focus on comparing the outcomes of each school’s graduates to what those students were likely to achieve no matter where they went to school.”

“In effect,” the editors write, “colleges aren’t just rewarded for their raw performance in traditional metrics; rather, they’re also evaluated against a benchmark that shows how the schools improve the trajectories of their students’ careers.”

The newspaper weights student outcomes like graduation rates and salaries at 70% of a university’s total score. A university’s learning environment counts for 20% of a school’s score. And diversity is weighted at 10%.

The U’s highest score, 88/100, was for “salary impact” as compared to similar schools. The Journal’s statistical model compared graduates’ estimated earnings based on their college’s demographic profile and compared that to graduates’ actual earnings. In essence: Graduating from the U. amplifies graduates’ salaries beyond what is expected.

University leaders welcomed the newspaper’s unique methodology, and not only because it raised the U.’s stature. They say it’s a belated recognition of the quality of education and workforce preparation available at the university.

Senior Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Steve Robinson expects the ranking to boost recruitment conversations, particularly with out-of-state students.

“As prospective students and their families learn more about the U, I think we will only see more growth in applications from out-of-state students as well as within Utah,” Robinson said. “Our university has achieved so much, but continues to rise. The awareness of this will translate to more students applying and enrolling at one of the best in the nation as the Wall Street Journal’s ranking indicates.”

For his part, President Randall hopes the new rankings motivate students, faculty and staff to continue striving to meet the strategic goals he has outlined for the institution: growing the student body to 40,000 students, earning $1 billion a year in external research funding, and making the lives of every Utahn better with medical and technological discoveries and generation of knowledge.

The ranking, he says, highlights what is already exceptional at the University of Utah.

“It’s really a fresh look at college rankings. These rankings measure things that other rankings don’t,” Randall said. “We’ve known this ourselves for years: The University of Utah provides an exceptional, affordable education to our students, and sets our graduates up for continued success in life.

While these new rankings are flattering and well-deserved, we are far from finished with our strategic goals,” he added. “These are metrics we can manage toward.”