U.S. News Analysis Shows Universities Where Reputation, Rank Don't Match

Diane Tolis and Robert J. Morse

An analysis of the schools in the National Universities ranking category that are overperforming or underperforming their undergraduate academic reputations reveals that some flagship public universities may not be serving students as well as their reputations would suggest.

For the second year, U.S. News looked at numerically ranked colleges where the school's overall Best College 2014 rank is better or worse than its peer assessment rank. This idea quantifies the degree to which a university's overall position in the rankings surpasses or lags its undergraduate academic reputation rank.

A school that does far better in the overall rankings than in the undergraduate academic reputation rankings - one that is overperforming - is doing better on a relative basis in the other key academic statistical indicators used in the rankings: admissions selectivity, financial and faculty resources, graduation and retention rates, alumni giving and graduation rate performance.

An overperforming school's undergraduate reputation among its academic peers has not kept pace with what it has achieved in the underlying academic indicators. This could be because academic reputation is a lagging indicator - it can take time for a school's academic peers to understand the real progress of a university.

All but three of the top overperforming universities - except Mississippi State University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry - are private schools. Many are relatively small research universities that grant fewer doctorates and conduct less research than other, larger research universities in their U.S. News ranking category. The top overperformer was Maryville University of St. Louis.

All the underperformers, on the other hand, are large public universities - many of them the flagship public school for their respective states - with large numbers of both undergraduate and graduate students.

Those schools had a higher academic reputation ranking than overall ranking, which means they have not performed on pace with their reputations in the key academic indicators used by U.S. News. In those cases, a school's undergraduate program reputation could be benefiting from the higher reputations of its medical, law or other graduate programs, or could not yet reflect negative trends in its underlying academic indicators.Arizona State University had the greatest degree of underperformance.

A National University's academic reputation peer score, a subjective measure, has a weight of 15 percent in the U.S. News overall ranking model. Peer assessments are important because graduates can benefit from their alma mater's reputation when it comes to getting a good job or being admitted to a top-notch graduate program.


Schools with an overall numerical rank in the 2014 Best National Universities rankings that is better than the school's academic peer assessment rank by the largest number of places are shown in the table below.

School name (state) U.S. News National Universities rank Academic peer assessment rank Overperformance
Maryville University of St. Louis 161 260 99
University of La Verne (CA) 161 246 85
St. John Fisher College (NY) 142 224 82
Andrews University (MI) 181 260 79
Biola University (CA) 177 254 77
Azusa Pacific University (CA) 173 246 73
Edgewood College (WI) 190 260 70
Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ) 82 152 70
University of St. Thomas (MN) 112 182 70
Yeshiva University (NY) 47 117 70
University of Tulsa (OK) 86 152 66
Immaculata University (PA) 190 254 64
Adelphi University (NY) 152 211 59
St. Mary's University of Minnesota 173 231 58
Mississippi State University 142 199 57
Indiana University of Pennsylvania 177 231 54
University of Dayton (OH) 112 166 54
University of the Pacific (CA) 112 166 54
Widener University (PA) 181 231 50
SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry 86 133 47


Schools with an overall numerical rank in the 2014 Best National Universities rankings that is lower than the school's academic peer assessment rank by the largest number of places are shown in the table below.

The ranking data above are correct as of Dec. 12, 2013.