Harvard, Princeton still tops

For the third straight year, Harvard and Princeton share the top spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s best colleges.

In fact, the full rankings look much like last year, with not one school in the top 20 moving more than two spots in either direction. Rounding out the top five are Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke and Stanford, who tied. The top four liberal arts colleges also are unchanged, with Williams again No. 1.

The University of California, Berkeley, tied for No. 20, is the top-ranked public university in the latest guide to “America’s Best Colleges,” hitting newsstands Monday.

The formula for the controversial rankings includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater.

Some critics say the formula should be changed, arguing it fails to account for many aspects of educational quality. More administrators appear to be protesting the rankings by declining to participate in the magazine’s peer review, in which they are asked to grade other colleges; that portion of the formula accounts for 25 percent of a school’s ranking. The survey’s response rate has fallen from 67 percent in 2002 to 57 percent this year.

New this year is a list of schools ranked by “economic diversity,” measured by the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, the federal government’s primary college aid for lower-income people. UCLA (38 percent) is highest among national universities, while Smith is highest among liberal arts colleges (27 percent).

Princeton, which has at least tied for No. 1 for six straight years, issued a statement saying it was “gratifying that Princeton continues to be recognized for the quality of the undergraduate experience we offer.” But it added that rankings cannot reflect whether any college is the right match for a student. Harvard spokesman Bob Mitchell said: “We’re just pleased we’re able to put together the best possible education for our students.”