Loyola lost its spot among the top 100 best national universities this year, with its overall rank dropping from 89 last year to 104, according to the U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges.”
Loyola’s administration cited last year’s graduation rate of 77 percent — the highest in Loyola’s history — as the reason for Loyola’s previous spot in the top 100. When Loyola’s graduation rate decreased to its recent average of around 74 percent, Loyola subsequently dropped in rank, according to David Slavsky, Loyola’s assistant provost — second-in-command to the university’s chief academic officer.
Loyola’s current standing is tied with 12 other universities across the country, including Auburn University, Creighton University, Howard University, University of South Carolina and University of Florida, according to the new report.
In comparison to other private universities in Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are ranked within the top 10 and DePaul University is ranked 125th. Loyola has a higher four-year graduation rate, 67 percent, compared to both DePaul and Columbia, at 59 percent and 38 percent, respectively.
This year’s report for national universities included 80 more schools than last year in the national rankings — the largest increase in many years, and perhaps ever — according to Slavsky. In comparison, 53 schools in total were added to the report’s national rankings between 2006 to 2018, Slavsky said.
Four of the 80 new schools were ranked ahead of Loyola, including Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, Gonzaga University and Elon University — the first three being Jesuit universities — according to Slavsky.
U.S. News uses the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education to rank colleges, according to Morse Code: Inside the College Rankings — a blog about the company’s methodology by their data experts.
The classifications, which have been around since the early 1970s, are used for one thing — separating institutions into categories, according to Victor M. H. Borden, the director of Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. For example, because Loyola’s a doctoral university, it’s categorized as a national university, Borden said.
“We are anti-ranking,” Borden said in an interview with The Phoenix. “We don’t believe making these minor distinctions … is valid. But [U.S. News and World Report is] free to use our ranking, it’s a public domain thing. … They re-label the categories when they use them.”
U.S. News and World Report quantifies data into university rankings “by looking at a number of different areas and assigning each area weight,” according to Slavsky, who’s also the director of Loyola’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. His office is “the official source of all university data” and responsible for sending data for the report, he said.
“The rankings evaluate schools on academic quality, with a focus on outcome measures — such as graduation rates, retention rates, and social mobility,” wrote Robert Morse, the chief data strategist for U.S. News and World Report, in a statement to The Phoenix.
The area with the greatest weight, 35 percent, is “student outcome,” according to Slavsky. Student outcome includes average six-year graduation rates, average first-year retention rates and graduation rate performance, according to a Morse Code article published last month.
This means “more than one-third of a school’s rank comes from its success at retaining and graduating students” within six years, according to the U.S. News’ website.
“[Loyola] went up [in rank last year] because we had the highest six-year graduation rate in our history,” Slavsky said. “That was 77 percent. Normally we’re around 74 percent.”
Stephen DeCaluwe, a senior majoring in history and film digital media, said he feels as though Loyola’s drop in rank could impact him negatively.
“As a graduating senior, being able to say I graduated from a top 100 university is something that I can say to employers in interviews that could potentially separate me from other candidates,” DeCaluwe, 21, said. “So falling out of the top 100 does make a big difference for me personally in that way.”
The report also evaluates a school’s “social mobility,” which is determined by the education and graduation of Pell Grant-eligible students — students from lower-income families who qualify for a U.S. federal government subsidy called a Pell Grant, according to Slavsky.
Loyola has about double the percentage of Pell Grant-eligible students and highest social mobility index of all Jesuit schools included in the report, Slavsky said.
Loyola’s ranked 84th in social mobility among 381 national universities, according to the report.
Adele Gedig, a Loyola sophomore majoring in advocacy and social change, said she heard about Loyola’s drop but didn’t know the reason.
“Personally, the numbers and the exact ranking, it doesn’t really matter to me because I know I go to a school that has values that align with a lot of my values,” Gedig, 19, said. “Social justice is super big to me and it’s super big to a lot of the Loyola community. I’ve always believed someone’s experience at college is what they make of it.”
While its rank dropped, Loyola’s peer assessment score — a section of the report in which officials from other schools survey Loyola — increased this year, according to Slavsky. It’s the largest increase Loyola’s ever seen, Slavsky said.
Student indebtedness — which is measured by seniors who report indebtedness upon graduation — was originally reported in a way which was incomparable to last year’s, Slavsky said.
Because the report changed its methodology, it originally showed this year’s student indebtedness to be $9,000 less than last year, Slavsky said. But data from last year and this year are actually about the same, and this was later corrected, he said.
Student indebtedness is approximately $34,000, Slavsky said. About two-thirds of the graduating classes from the past couple of years reported their indebtedness, Slavsky said.
“[This report is] one measure, there are many other measures,” Slavsky said of the report. “We are very proud of the students we educate and we’re very proud of what our students do. We always want to do better. … But we’re going to provide an education that we think is the best education to meet the needs of our students. And we’re not going to do things just to move up or down in the U.S. News ranking.”
Correction: The original version of this article said Columbia College Chicago was ranked 105th, one place below Loyola. It’s ranked 105th on a different list, “Regional Universities Midwest,” not as a national university, and is incomparable to Loyola’s rank at 104.