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In Response to U.S. News University Rankings

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Jeremy Haefner

Letter  •

September 20, 2023

Dear DU community members,

This week, U.S. News & World Report released its annual “Best National University” rankings. You can read more details about these rankings here, but I want to directly address the news that, for the 2024 list, the University of Denver fell to the 124th slot. This is disappointing to many of us because that ranking does not reflect the exceptional educational experience we offer, nor the quality of our faculty, who are internationally recognized thought-leaders in their fields.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best National Universities Ranking is just one of several high-profile higher education ranking systems, and each is imperfect at capturing the holistic value of any institution. Moreover, a recent study by Art and Science Group shows that, while rankings remain an important piece of information, they are not the only factors prospective students consider in their decision-making process.

Why Our Ranking Changed

While U.S. News changes the methodology of the ranking systems regularly and without advance warning to universities, this year represented a significant change and one that particularly favors public state universities. U.S. News has altered their methodology in multiple ways this year, but one change in particular has made an impact on DU’s ranking: number of classes with fewer than 20 students is no longer considered. Small class sizes allow the personalized learning and mentorship that is essential to who we are as an institution and which are well-understood to result in stronger learning outcomes. As well, U.S. News no longer considers the percent of faculty who hold a terminal degree--another area where DU has earned points toward our final score in the past. At DU, our thought-leaders are in the classroom, directly teaching our students and involving them in their research. U.S. News acknowledges these changes have an outsize negative impact on private institutions and tend to favor larger, state universities.  

Our Scores Improved

While our ranking has changed, our overall score, tallied from 1 to 100, has improved since the past year. We share the 124th ranking slot with nine other institutions, and even though our score has improved, the drop in rankings is the result of more institutions earning a higher score due to the metric adjustments.  

We also received higher scores compared to the past year in the following categories:

Pell grant graduation rate

Graduation rate performance

Student-to-faculty ratio

Faculty salaries  

Other Changes

U.S. News made other changes emphasizing social mobility and inclusivity. One of these considers how many Pell-Grant eligible and first-generation students are at an institution, which we at DU see as a positive change. They have also stopped taking alumni giving into consideration. DU would only suggest these measures are included in addition to metrics we know improve student experiences and outcomes, like small class sizes.

We don’t believe this year’s methodology fully reflects our values because it excludes components that directly impact the student experience in the classroom—the very heart and soul of an education. We will continue to evaluate how U.S. News adjusts their methodology in the future. And even as we aim to rank highly, DU will continue to center the student experience and the quality of education we offer, and we thank all our faculty members, in particular, who are so critical in this endeavor.  


Jeremy Haefner