In its 2010 list of the Best American Colleges and Universities, U.S. News and World Report ranked the University at No. 27 – down one spot from the previous year – but University officials say the drop doesn’t mean the quality of the school has slipped.

Do you care that the University fell one spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings?

Choices

“We are very proud of the fact that the University of Michigan always ranks highly,” University Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. “If it drops a place or two from year to year it isn’t really very meaningful. Nationally we consistently rank high.”

The University of Michigan, which in 2007 tied with the University of California at Los Angeles as the second best public school on the list, is now in the No. 4 spot behind the University of California at Berkeley, ranked at No. 21 among all universities, UCLA and the University of Virginia, tied at No. 24.

Fitzgerald said a change in ranking does not necessarily mean that the school in question has significantly improved or worsened, but that the change reflects a shift in the ranking system, altering the overall outcome.

“In all of these different rankings, the methodology does change from year to year and it changes how things are weighted, which can alter our spot in the rankings,” Fitzgerald said.

A major factor incorporated into U.S. News and World Report’s method for ranking universities is the expenditure per student: the more money a university spends per student, the higher rating it receives.

Citing the expenditure factor for the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking, Fitzgerald explained that the system is much more subjective than is perceived by the general public.

“If we’ve found a more efficient way of spending our money, we do not need excessive spending per student,” Fitzgerald explained. “The University of Michigan can be penalized because it’s not spending more, which doesn’t necessarily make it automatically better.”

But U.S. News and World Report isn’t the only national ranking system to use this method of money spent per student.

On its 2009 list of “America’s Best Colleges,” Forbes Magazine placed the University of Michigan at No. 200.

Larger public schools are less common on the Forbes list than private institutions because of the different factors considered as part of the ranking’s methodology. The only public schools found in the top 25 on the list were the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Though the monetary aspect of ranking appears to hurt the University’s standing, Washington Monthly’s ranking of national universities for 2009 has the University as No. 18.

The Washington Monthly bases its ranking on three main categories: the recruitment and graduation of low-income students, research the school conducts and the encouragement of students to give back to the community.

Focusing primarily on the amount of research done by universities and the grants they receive, the Washington Monthly ignores the amount of money spent by schools for each student, gearing the entire list toward readers who are looking for schools that conduct the maximum amount of research.

Fitzgerald said that because the methodologies are not outwardly obvious to college guide readers, a school’s ranking on any list can be misleading.

“These kinds of rankings take things that are very subjective,” he said. “We don’t think that that’s the best way for students to choose where to go to college. There is no one best college for everyone.”

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