ITHACA, N.Y. -- The first annual college guide introduced by the magazine Washington Monthly has ranked Cornell University fourth in the nation, leaving Yale and Harvard in the dust at 15th and 16th.
Differing itself from other guides that emphasize academics, the magazine said its rationale for the new guide is that, "While other guides ask what colleges can do for students, we ask what colleges are doing for the country." The magazine said it includes such factors as the number of low-income students a school graduates, the school's production of research valuable to society and its commitment to national service. Top-ranked were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California-Los Angeles and UC-Berkeley.
"I am pleased that Cornell is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the country -- indeed in the world," said Cornell Provost Biddy Martin. "When the rankings accurately reflect the quality of our faculty, students and programs, of course we're the best."
At the same time, in its 2005 ranking of engineering programs at universities in the United States, U.S. News and World Report has placed Cornell first in engineering science and engineering physics. Unlike the magazine's overall rankings, which use a complex formula, ratings of engineering programs are based on the recommendations of peer institutions.
"The engineering physics program has been one of the hidden jewels of Cornell, and I am delighted to see the program receive this well-deserved recognition," said Robert Richardson, Cornell's vice provost for research.
Engineering physics, which at Cornell is known as applied and engineering physics, was born at the dawn of the nuclear age to produce engineers with a strong understanding of basic nuclear physics. It has expanded over the years into plasma physics, solid state physics and other areas important to industry.
"We've been here for nearly 60 years producing extraordinary scientists and engineers, and it's gratifying to have it recognized in this public fashion," said Joel Brock, professor and director of the School of Applied and Engineering Physics. When Kent Fuchs, dean of the College of Engineering, announced the ranking at a colloquium for new students, the response from parents of entering freshmen was overwhelmingly positive, Brock noted.
Said Fuchs, "This confirms our perspective that Cornell is exceptionally strong in education and research at the intersection of engineering and science, particularly engineering physics."
In its overall rankings U.S. News and World Report placed Cornell at No. 13 among "Best National Universities," up one notch from last year. In the magazine's rankings of "Best Business Programs," Cornell placed 12th. Under "Best Engineering Programs" in the subcategory of universities offering degrees up to a doctorate, Cornell tied with Carnegie Mellon University for eighth place.
A variety of other publications and institutions offer college rankings, none of them agreeing. Several surveys suggest that students and parents don't put much stock in any of the ratings. A 1997 survey of college freshmen released by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute reported that of 251,232 freshmen surveyed only 8.6 percent considered rankings in national magazines to be "very important" when selecting a college.
To see the sort of basic information the magazines use in preparing their rankings, tryhttp://www.about.com, which provides separate listings of test scores, percentage of minorities, graduation rates and other categories.