Increasingly, a high school diploma doesn't cut it in today's workforce.
In fact, of the higher-paying positions that have streamed back into the labor market since 2010, 97 percent have gone to college graduates, according to a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
Despite the potential rewards of a university degree, college can still leave students weighed down by debt, which is especially problematic for those who end up dropping out or defaulting on loans. Prospective students looking to find the best fit and minimize those risks can turn to the 2016 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released today.
The 2016 edition includes data on nearly 1,800 colleges and universities, including statistics on borrowing, costs and graduation rates. The rankings measure the strength of the academic programs at undergraduate institutions, with eligible schools ranked on up to 16 measures of academic excellence.
Among National Universities, which emphasize research and offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs, Princeton University in New Jersey once again took No. 1.
Massachusetts' Harvard University remained in second place and Yale University in Connecticut held onto third.
The University of Pennsylvania was the only school from last year's top 10 to shift, dropping from a tie at No. 8 to No. 9.
However, a new school joined the top 10 for 2016, with Maryland's Johns Hopkins University jumping two spots to tie with California Institute of Technology at No. 10.
One of the largest leaps in the 2016 National Universities rankings came from Southern Illinois University—Carbondale, which shot from a tie at No. 189 to a tie at No. 153, a difference of 36 spots.
The University of Illinois—Chicago also traveled far, jumping from a tie at No. 149 to tie for No. 129.
See photos of the top 20 National Universities.
National Liberal Arts Colleges, which focus on undergraduate education and award at least 50 percent of their degrees in fields such as economics, English or sociology, saw no change among the top three.
Massachusetts' Williams College took the No. 1 spot, with Amherst College, also in Massachusetts, taking No. 2 and Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College at No. 3. Middlebury College in Vermont is back at No. 4 after falling from that spot to No. 7 in the 2015 rankings. It's now one of four schools tied at No. 4, including Maine's Bowdoin College,
California's Pomona College and Massachusetts' Wellesley College.
Among Regional Colleges, schools that grant fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines, the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut maintained its top spot in the North. Taylor University in Indiana and Carroll College in Montana kept their No. 1 placement in the Midwest and West rankings, respectively. This year, North Carolina's High Point University took sole possession of No. 1 in the South after sharing the position in a three-way tie last year.
Villanova University in Pennsylvania held fast to its No. 1 spot in the North among Regional Universities – schools that offer many bachelor's, some master's and few doctoral programs. Creighton University in Nebraska and Texas' Trinity University also maintained their top positions in the Midwest and West, respectively. North Carolina's Elon University tied with Florida's Rollins College for the No. 1 spot in the South, a change from last year when Rollins was No. 2.
For students looking to dive deeper into the rankings, U.S. News evaluates schools on more specific measures of quality and cost.
A new category in the 2016 rankings is Most Innovative Schools. These institutions are making innovative improvements in terms of campus life, curriculum, facilities, faculty, students or technology, with inclusion based on feedback from college presidents, provosts and admissions deans.
Arizona State University—Tempe, which has grabbed headlines for its recent strides in online education, took the No. 1 spot on the inaugural list for National Universities. Stanford University in California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology landed second and third, respectively.
Among National Liberal Arts Colleges, New York's Bard College, Colorado College, North Carolina's Davidson College and Pennsylvania's Franklin and Marshall College top the list in a four-way tie.
Since college cost is a major concern for families, the rankings of Best Value Schools show which colleges give the most academic bang for your buck. Amherst topped the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges, while Princeton ranked highest among National Universities. Regional Colleges offering the most value include College of the Ozarks in Missouri and New York's Cooper Union, which both heavily subsidize tuition and fees for eligible students.
Explore resources on how to pay for college.
Students with less-than-stellar academic records who want to attend a top-notch school can look to A-plus Schools for B Students. Among these schools, which accept students with modest report cards but rank highly among the 2016 Best Colleges, California's Pepperdine University tops the list of National Universities. Skidmore College in New York is the highest-ranked A-plus School for B Students among National Liberal Arts Colleges.
To round out the nearly 50 types of numerical rankings and lists, U.S. News publishes a wealth of data on each school's online profile page, including information about academic programs, admissions and cost. Schools report the bulk of the information directly to U.S. News in an extensive questionnaire.
Looking for full rankings information? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find all published data points, including student debt and employment statistics.
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