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Three R.I. higher education institutions make region’s top 10 on college rankings list

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Three R.I. higher education institutions make region’s top 10 on college rankings list

Sep 21, 2023 | 5:00 am ET
By Kevin G. Andrade
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Three R.I. higher education institutions make region’s top 10 on college rankings list
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Graduating seniors from Providence College's Class of 2022 pose for a photo. The Catholic college ranked first among the region's best colleges for the fifth year in a row in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges ranking released Monday, Sept. 18, 2023. (Courtesy of Providence College)

Providence College and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) tied with Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, for the top spot among regional higher education institutions in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report College and University Best Colleges rankings.

Brown University, the Ivy League school with a 5% acceptance rate, cracked the top 10 nationally, climbing to ninth place from 13th last year on the annual list released Monday. Princeton University ranked first nationally.

The annual rankings, which evaluated 1,500 colleges and universities on 19 measures of academic quality, are considered a guide for prospective undergraduate students and their families. The list’s Regional North category consists of New England plus Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. U.S. News & World Report defines regional universities as schools with a broad focus offering a full range of undergraduate programs, some masters programs, and a limited number of doctoral degrees. 

“This is the fifth year in a row that U.S. News & World Report has ranked us number one in our category,” said Steven Maurano, associate vice president of public affairs at Providence College, in an email. “It is also the 28th straight year we have been ranked in their top five.”

We are appreciative of the recognition,” he added. The Catholic college has an acceptance rate of 53%.

Bryant University, a business-oriented school in Smithfield with a 69% acceptance rate, rose to sixth place out of the 127 listed Regional North universities, up from seventh on last year’s list.

“The U.S. News & World Report rankings demonstrate the high value of a Bryant education, including our ability to impact the economic mobility of our students,” said Bryant University President Ross Gittel in a statement. “Our university is focused on outcomes and student success, and it’s clear our approach is working in a time when many families are weighing the worth of a college experience.”

Johnson & Wales University (JWU), a culinary school with an 83% acceptance rate, was ranked 69 for best regional universities, up from 70th place last year.

“We will continue to build on the momentum we have achieved and raise JWU to greater heights, advancing our academic excellence and reputation,” said JWU Chancellor Mim L. Runey. “Making Johnson & Wales University the first choice of students seeking an innovative and comprehensive university that prepares them for careers and leadership in a wide range of industries.”

Salve Regina University, a Catholic school in Newport with a 70% acceptance rate, was ranked 27th, up from 28th last year.

“Salve is appreciative of the recognition of the quality of our overall education, and in particular the highlighting of our commitment to undergraduate teaching, dedication to equity and access as demonstrated by the social mobility of our graduates, and acknowledgement of our work to evolve with the changing needs of students, families, and society through innovation,” said James Fowler, Salve’s vice president for enrollment management. 

Three R.I. higher education institutions make region’s top 10 on college rankings list
The Bronze Bruno gazes at the College Greet at Brown University, which climbed from 13th to ninth place in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report College and University Best Colleges rankings. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

Indifference from some

The Rhode Island School of Design obtained its top ranking despite its decision last February to stop submitting information and completing peer assessment questionnaires for U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“After withdrawing, it was our understanding that RISD would possibly still appear in the rankings based solely on publicly available data,” said Jaime Marland, RISD spokeswoman, in an email. 

“This seems to have been the case with other schools that have previously withdrawn their participation and appears to be the case for RISD in the recently released 2023 undergraduate rankings.” 

Brown University jumped up four slots to its ninth place ranking among national universities — tied with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. 

Brown spokesman Brian Clark downplayed the school’s performance on the list.

“This year, many of the rankings organizations made significant changes in methodology, prompting gains in some rankings and declines in others,” Clark said. “Even as we share rankings with our community because they continue to be of interest, the ever-changing methods and approaches underscore the challenges of formulaic rankings.

“Brown continues to maintain that no ranking is effective in determining what school is a good match for a prospective student.”

The announcement came less than a month after the Brown University Warren E. Alpert School of Medicine announced a decision not to submit information for rankings to U.S. News & World Report.

“While the reasons for no longer participating vary from school to school, at the core of these decisions are the flawed methodology of the rankings and their negative consequences on medical education,” Alpert Dean Mukesh Jain said in a letter to Alpert students, staff, and faculty, dated Aug. 29

Eight other top ranked medical schools — including those at: Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Harvard University, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington — decided to stop participating several months before the Alpert announcement.  

The University of Rhode Island was the only other higher education institution in the state to rank on the national university list, coming in at spot 151.

“As a University, we are gratified to be ranked as a leading national public institution, improving 31 places over the prior ranking,” said Dawn Bergantino, URI public information officer.

“While we are pleased with this improved standing, rankings are not our pursuit, but rather a byproduct of our ongoing commitment to academic excellence and student success, and to our land- and sea-grant missions as Rhode Island’s flagship public institution.”

Rhode Island College (RIC) ranked 96 on the regional list. John Taraborelli, director of communications and public relations, said the college was not all that concerned about its ranking.

“Rhode Island College’s mission is to be a school of opportunity for those seeking social mobility through higher education,” Taraborelli said. “While that may not align with the U.S. News and World Report’s metrics, we believe it is a vital service to the state and region, as well as all the students who find an accessible, affordable pathway to a high-quality four-year degree at RIC.”

RIC placed 27 in the north for regional universities when it comes to social mobility, a measure examining the access provided to higher education by a given institution.

New methodology

In response to changing times, U.S. News & World Report changed its methodology from previous years. 

Among the changes, greater attention to retention rates — those who continue studies in a given program from one year to the next — now making up 5% of a school’s score — up from 4.4% the previous year. It also takes into account graduation rate performance — an average of six-year graduation rates over the preceding four years — now make up 10% versus 8.

Other changes came from a focus on social mobility, increasing the weight given to Pell grant recipient graduation rates, student debt rates, and a graduate’s earning compared to a high school graduate.

Roger Williams University President Ioannis N. Miaoulis said in an email to faculty and staff Monday the change in the methodology led to a drop in the school’s placement, from 34th place in 2023 to 50th in 2024. The liberal arts school in Bristol with a 91% acceptance rate scheduled an assembly in October for faculty and staff to discuss the results.

“The factors used in U.S. News & World Report rankings are a snapshot of data and trends over time,” Miaoulis wrote. “This year’s methodology evaluated retention rate from two years ago and the graduation rate of the entering cohort from seven years ago.”

Miaoulis said the Fall 2021 cohort only experienced a 77% retention rate going into Fall 2022 and a graduation rate of only 26% for the Class of 2022, heavily affected by COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. Exit surveys found students said they chose to leave because of affordability, personal factors, and a lost sense of community, he said.

“We must use this data as an opportunity for reflection and a call to action. This is not a staff or faculty issue, but an institutional issue and care for student success is a key initiative of our Strategic Plan.”

We expect that our recent improvements in the overall student experience in turn will be reflected in future rankings,” said Jill Pais, assistant vice president of communications and media relations at Roger Williams. “RWU’s faculty and staff provide a world-class education for our students that prepares them to lead great lives and careers.”