Princeton, Williams top 2019 US News best colleges rankings

Earning potential and improved job prospects are often cited as the benefits of graduating from a four-year college.

In fact, new research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that bachelor's degree holders earn nearly twice as much as those with a high school diploma. According to the May 2018 report, the median earnings for a college grad are $62,000 per year compared with $36,000 for a high school diploma holder.

The message to prospective students: Among other benefits, higher education can lead to greater earning power. To find and evaluate schools and the outcomes of their graduates, prospective students and their families can turn to the 2019 U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, released today.

The new edition provides data on more than 1,800 colleges and universities, including nearly 1,400 ranked institutions. These schools report most of the data to U.S. News through an annual survey. In the rankings, schools are divided into categories such as National Universities, which offer a range of bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees and emphasize research, and National Liberal Arts Colleges, which focus on undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts fields.

See the list here:

[See: Explore the 2019 Best National Universities.]

Schools are evaluated on up to 16 metrics that measure academic excellence, such as class size and average spending per student on areas like instruction and student services. The U.S. News methodology places the heaviest weight on student outcomes, including analyzing schools' success at retaining and graduating students.

For the 2019 rankings, U.S. News added a new outcome indicator looking at social mobility, or a school's success at graduating students who received federal Pell Grants. These students are typically from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually.

To make room for the new social mobility indicator, a school's acceptance rate has been completely removed from ranking calculations.

Among National Universities, Princeton University in New Jersey again topped the rankings. Harvard University in Massachusetts remained at No. 2, while Columbia University in New York and Massachusetts Institute of Technology moved up two spots to tie at No. 3 with the University of Chicago and Yale University in Connecticut. Two new schools cracked the top 10 this year, with both Maryland's Johns Hopkins University and Illinois' Northwestern University climbing one spot to tie at No. 10.

There are other noteworthy shifts among the National Universities. The University of California—Riverside, which had almost the same six-year graduation rate for both Pell and non-Pell students, rose 39 places to a tie at No. 85. Another school that leaped in the rankings is Georgia State University – the Atlanta school climbed up 36 spots to a tie at No. 187.

Among National Liberal Arts Colleges, Massachusetts' Williams College and Amherst College remain at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College stayed tied at No. 3 with Wellesley College in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Washington and Lee University in Virginia dropped out of the top 10 to tie at No. 11 with four other colleges.

[See: 2019 Best Liberal Arts Colleges.]

Moving in the other direction, the College of Idaho soared 37 places to tie with three other liberal arts schools at No. 131. Illinois' Principia College also rose in these rankings from a tie at No. 112 to a tie at No. 81 with four other colleges.

There were a few shifts in the top spots among Regional Universities for 2019. These schools offer a range of bachelor's degrees, some master's programs and a limited number of doctoral degree programs. Fairfield University in Connecticut is now No. 1 in the North, while Elon University in North Carolina remains No. 1 in the South. In the Midwest, Creighton University in Nebraska is now tied at No. 1 with Butler University in Indiana. Santa Clara University in California is now first in the West.

Regional Colleges, which focus on undergraduate education and award fewer than half of their degrees in liberal arts fields, had one change at the top of their rankings. Most of the top schools in the last two editions of the rankings held on to their No. 1 spots for 2019: Cooper Union in New York for the North, North Carolina's High Point University in the South and Carroll College in Montana for the West. But Michigan's Calvin College in the Midwest is now tied at No. 1 with Taylor University in Indiana.

These categories aren't the only school rankings that U.S. News offers. Top Public Schools, for instance, evaluate colleges and universities that typically operate under the supervision of state governments. The University of California—Los Angeles tops this ranking as the No. 1 public institution among National Universities. The University of California—Berkeley takes the No. 2 spot followed by the University of Virginia at No. 3.

Another type of ranking is Best Value Schools, which weigh a school's academic quality with the net cost of attendance for a student who received the average level of need-based financial aid. Princeton, which has packaged its financial aid awards to undergraduate students with no loans since 2001, held on to the No. 1 spot among National Universities. Harvard placed at No. 2, and MIT followed the two Ivy League schools at No. 3.

[Watch: How to Go to College Debt Free.]

Williams is once again the top-ranked Best Value School among National Liberal Arts Colleges. The school provided need-based financial aid to 51 percent of undergraduates. Pomona College in California nabbed the No. 2 spot in this ranking, followed by Amherst College at No. 3.

U.S. News also ranks colleges and universities in other areas, such as Best Colleges for Veterans, High School Counselor Rankings and Most Innovative Schools. While exploring the rankings, applicants can use tools to search and compare colleges and browse through a wealth of data on each school's profile page, including information on tuition, application fees and deadlines, popular majors and financial aid. Prospective students can also compare postgraduate salary data that PayScale collected, which are displayed on many U.S. News school profile pages.

Looking for full rankings information? Access the U.S. News College Compassto find all published data points, including student debt and employment statistics.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report