By Oliver Staley
Aug 22, 2009 (Bloomberg) — Harvard University, the oldest institution in U.S. higher education, ousted Princeton University from the top of U.S. News & World Report’s best- college rankings for the first time in nine years.
Princeton of New Jersey led the standings last year and was first or tied with Harvard of Cambridge, Massachusetts, since 2001, according to the magazine, which posted the rankings on its Web site today.
The U.S. News ranking may attract even more of the top- achieving high school students to Harvard, which turned down 93 percent of 27,462 applicants for this year’s freshman class, the highest rejection rate in its 372-year history. Harvard’s top ranking only reinforces the school’s reputation, said Bari Norman, who heads a college-counseling service for high school students.
“The Harvard concept is so engrained in our culture,” said Norman, director of Miami-based Expert Admissions LLC. “It’s so powerful and, like any other social phenomenon, hard to displace. People are going to look at this and say, ‘Yes, that makes sense.”‘
Harvard’s top position was based on student test scores, selectivity, alumni contributions and graduate employment, according to U.S. News.
Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, came in third in the magazine’s ranking. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, and Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California, tied for fourth. The University of California, Berkeley, was the top public school in the national rankings, at No. 21. Amherst, Williams
Amherst College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, share the magazine’s No. 1 ranking in a separate list of liberal-arts schools.
Harvard, founded in 1636, said its endowment was worth $34.9 billion through June 30, 2007. Princeton, founded in 1746, had an endowment of $14.8 billion as of March 31, 2007, according to its Web site.
“It is always nice to be recognized as one of the top universities,” Harvard spokesman John Longbrake said in an e- mailed statement today. “However, our admissions officers always tell prospective students that they should select a college or university that best suits their needs, not by its position in a ranking.”
The validity of U.S. News’s rankings has been challenged by some university presidents who say they distort the admissions process by focusing students’ attention on the lists and not on educational goals. In September, the presidents of Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore colleges said they wouldn’t provide the magazine with information not publicly available and wouldn’t use the rankings to promote their institutions. They were joined by the presidents of 16 other schools.
Princeton said in an e-mailed statement that it was No. 1 in an Aug. 14 Forbes ranking of U.S. colleges, in which Harvard was third, and placed first in U.S. News’s rankings for students graduating with the least debt.
“We are pleased to be acknowledged as one of the nation’s best universities, and we remain dedicated to demonstrating to interested students and their families the many ways we continue to improve the Princeton experience every year,” the college said in a statement.
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