How Does Operating Efficiency Affect Rank of National Universities?

Robert J. Morse

U.S. News is frequently asked about which universities are spending the most per student on education-related expenditures. We have developed an exclusive new list showing the 25 schools in the National Universities category that spend the most per student, using our financial resources ranking indicator, to produce the highest educational quality as measured by their position in our 2013 Best Colleges rankings.

U.S. News measures financial resources by taking into account how much a school spends per student on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures. That financial resources category has a 10 percent weight in the Best Colleges rankings methodology.

The new list below is based on the concept of operating efficiency, which U.S. News has defined as a school's 2011 fiscal year financial resources per student divided by its overall score. That overall score is the basis U.S. News used to determine a school's overall numerical rank in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings.

The new calculation shows how much each school is spending per student in relation to one point in its overall score and thus its numerical position in the Best Colleges rankings. Schools with higher average expenditures per student do better on that one factor in the rankings model than schools with lower average expenditures per student.

In other words, U.S. News believes that financial resources do matter in terms of being able to provide students with a high-quality college experience. Universities that are strong financially are able to fund wide-ranging offerings in terms of courses, degree, facilities and services compared with schools that are weaker financially.

How should these results be interpreted? The list shows that high spending per student is not always correlated with the very highest rankings.

It's true that many of the schools on the list, including Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University and the University of Chicago, are ranked in the top 10 of the National Universities rankings. This means for these schools there is a strong correlation between being near the top of the spending per student list and achieving a top rank.

However, there are other schools on the list, such as Wake Forest University, Yeshiva University, the University of Rochester, University of California--San Diego, the University of Miami and Case Western Reserve University, whose spending per student by overall score point was among the highest. But that alone wasn't enough to put them at the very top of the National Universities rankings, since they didn't score high enough on some of the other factors used in the rankings methodology.

Only schools that were numerically ranked in the top half of the National Universities rankings category in the Best Colleges 2013 rankings were included in this analysis.

The table below shows the universities that spent the most per student as related to their overall rank. Note: A school's overall rank is partly based on a two-year average of expenditures per student; the financial resources figures displayed below reflect only the most recent year.

School name (state) U.S. News National Universities rank Financial resources rank Spending per student related to overall score
California Institute of Technology 10 1 $2,199.22
Yale University (CT) 3 2 $2,004.90
Wake Forest University (NC) 27 6 1,768.08
Washington University in St. Louis 14 3 $1,707.11
Johns Hopkins University (MD) 13 3 $1, 632. 27
University of Chicago 4 7 $1,476.88
Harvard University (MA) 1 3 $1,458.17
Yeshiva University (NY) 46 17 $1,434.77
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6 8 $1,394.35
University of Pennsylvania 8 9 $1,374.97
Vanderbilt University (TN) 17 15 $1,302.57
Duke University (NC) 8 12 $1,295.98
Columbia University (NY) 4 10 $1,273.96
Stanford University (CA) 6 12 $1,256.94
Northwestern University (IL) 12 14 $1,228.30
Princeton University (NJ) 1 10 $1,215.70
Dartmouth College (NH) 10 16 $1,138.68
University of Rochester (NY) 33 20 $1,104.23
University of California--San Diego 38 24 $1,079.58
University of Miami 44 24 $1,057.19
Emory University (GA) 20 18 $1,034.06
Cornell University (NY) 15 18 $990.02
Case Western Reserve University (OH) 37 26 $983.91
University of California--Los Angeles 24 22 $944.47

The financial resources data above are correct as of March 28, 2013.