UNC Makes It Two Decades As Fifth-Ranked Public University

U.S. News uses 17 metrics to assess academic quality, with the greatest emphasis on outcomes, particularly a college’s ability to retain and graduate students. (Grant Halverson ’93)

Carolina ranks fifth among national public universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. The 2021 Best Colleges rankings also listed the University atop their best-value schools list among national public universities and 14th overall among both public and private institutions.

U.S. News assessed this year’s rankings by looking at 17 academic quality indicators, including graduate and retention rates; social mobility; faculty resources; academic quality assessments by peer institution presidents, provosts and deans; financial resources; student excellence; and alumni giving.

UNC was fifth among publics for the 20th year, and the cast ahead of it stayed unchanged: UCLA was first, followed by Cal-Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia.

Additional 2021 Best Colleges rankings for Carolina include:

  • Tying seventh overall and tying for fourth among public universities for the third year in a row with the University of Virginia for best undergraduate business program;
  • Ranking 12th best college among national universities for veterans, reflecting the ongoing support Carolina provides its military students through initiatives such as its Veterans Resource Center; its student veteran orientation, Boot Print to Heel Print; and the UNC Core, a distance-learning program;
  • Tying 16th in the nation for service learning in the “Academic Programs to Look For” list, highlighting the ways in which the University helps students learn in situations beyond the classroom. Each year, Carolina’s APPLES Service-Learning program enrolls more than 2,400 students who complete more than 84,000 hours of service in service-learning courses; and
  • Tying 28th overall with Wake Forest University for best national university among both public and private schools.

U.S. News‘ metrics to assess academic quality puts the greatest emphasis on outcomes, particularly a college’s ability to retain and graduate students. Other factors include class size, undergraduate academic reputation and how much colleges spend on instruction and other educational investments.

Graduate indebtedness is a new metric added to the rankings this year to address families’ concerns about college affordability and the value of a degree. This factor takes into account the average amount of federal loan debt among graduating classes in 2019 at the bachelor’s level, as well as the proportion of graduates who took out federal student loans. To make room for these new measures, U.S. News has reduced the weight given to SAT/ACT scores, high school class standing and alumni giving rates.


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