Oval-Commons-University-of-LouisvilleU.S. News & World Report released its influential rankings of America’s top universities for 2016 on Wednesday, and the University of Louisville slipped seven spots to a tie at No. 168 among national universities.

The magazine’s rankings are based on 16 measures of academic quality, with graduation and retention rates carrying the most weight in their methodology.

While the University of Kentucky’s ranking is unchanged from last year at No. 129, the University of Louisville fell from its No. 161 spot last year; the year before that, U of L was ranked No. 160. U of L now is tied with such universities as Ball State, Texas Tech, Central Florida and Idaho.

Whereas among the ranked national universities the average six-year graduation rate was 72.6 percent and the average freshman retention rate was 87.2 percent, U of L finished well below those at 54 and 79 percent, respectively. UK’s average in these categories was 60 and 82 percent.

Among other public universities in Kentucky ranked within the category of regional universities of the South, Murray State University fell slightly to No. 28, while Western Kentucky University stayed at No. 31. Other schools in the Bluegrass took a steep dive, as Morehead State fell eight spots to No. 61, Eastern Kentucky University fell 14 spots to No. 76, and Northern Kentucky University fell 10 spots to No. 80.

While the academic rankings of these state universities dropped, the tuition rate has not done likewise, as Kentucky has withstood the highest per-student cut to higher education spending in the country since the onset of the Great Recession. Annual tuition for in-state students at U of L surpassed $10,000 for the first time this year, and for those living on campus, tuition plus the average cost of room, books and a meal plan is $18,946.

The ranking of Louisiville’s Bellarmine University was unchanged from last year, listed as No. 13 among regional universities of the South, as was Centre College in Danville, ranked No. 45 among national liberal arts colleges.

U of L did not immediately give a statement to IL on the new report.

***** UPDATE 4:49 p.m. *****

Robert Goldstein, vice provost for institutional research, effectiveness and analytics at U of L, told IL over email that their drop in the U.S. News ranking is not concerning, but it is something they take seriously.

“The drop, I wouldn’t say, is concerning,” said Goldstein. “It is always something we take seriously, and we try to figure out the factors. One of the factors is we didn’t hit the graduation rate calculated by U.S. News based upon our academic profile. Our graduation rate continues to rise each year, and we also saw improvements in ACT scores, acceptance rate, alumni giving rate and several other categories.”

Goldstein added that he does not believe the U.S. News rankings are overrated, but “I believe too much emphasis is placed on it because its methodology is somewhat narrow. It’s an algorithm, and it takes some metrics and it infers quality from them. To judge the quality of an institution, you must go far beyond the metrics of an algorithm.”

Asked if the U.S. News ranking factors into performance bonuses for President James Ramsey’s financial compensation, Goldstein said the “overall placement of the university is not. Specific parts of how it is calculated are.”

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]