Making the Grade

Dallas' SMU ponies up new ranking to No. 3 school in Texas

Dallas' SMU ponies up new ranking to No. 3 school in Texas

Celebration of Lights
SMU's Festival of Lights got a special shout-out in the magazine. Photo courtesy of SMU

Alert the admissions office. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Southern Methodist University No. 3 in Texas and No. 59 in the nation.

On September 10, the prestigious publication released its anticipated 2019 Best Colleges report, an analysis of more than 1,800 schools across the country. And this year, there's a Texas plot twist.

Nearly a year after U.S. News & World Report crowned the University of Texas at Austin the No. 1 school in the state (and the 32nd best school in the entire world), the magazine's latest rankings have UT losing the top spot to Rice University. UT ranked No. 2 in Texas and No. 49 in the nation, tying with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Wisconsin — Madison, and Villanova University.

What accounts for the shakeup? The answer lies in how the data was weighted. In creating the 2019 Best Colleges ranking, U.S News placed particular emphasis on student outcomes, increasing the weight from 20 percent to 35 percent. For the first year ever, the report even included a metric evaluating how universities graduate high proportions of low-income students.

In comparison, U.S. News researchers compiling last year's global rankings placed more importance on academic outcomes including professional reputation and numbers of publications produced annually.

As college becomes increasingly expensive, analyzing student outcomes is critical, says the publication. "A university is not successful if it does not graduate its students, which is why the Best Colleges rankings place the greatest value on outcomes, including graduation and retention rates," said Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, in a release

In 2018, Rice had a six-year graduation rate of 92 percent, earning it the No. 1 spot in Texas and No. 16 in the nation. Compare that to SMU's graduation rate of 79 percent. 

The publication took special note of SMU's graduate programs through the Cox School of Business and its law school, as well as its unique SMU-in-Taos study abroad experience for undergrads. 

"About 2,000 students are involved in SMU Greek life," the website says, "and all students can participate in annual events such as the Festival of Lights, a candlelit assembly on the school’s Main Quad each December, and the Mane Event, a celebration of spring complete with bands and food.

The nation's top schools, however, leaned heavily toward the Ivy League. Princeton University was crowned the best university in the nation followed by Harvard University (No. 2). Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Chicago, and Yale University all tied for third.

Elsewhere in Texas, Texas A&M University (No. 4) and Baylor University (No. 5) rounded out the top five spots. SMU's cross-town rival Texas Christian University came in at No. 6, and University of Texas at Dallas, No. 7. Dallas Baptist University is No. 10, and University of Texas at Arlington landed at No. 11.