You are here: American University President Announcements September 18, 2023

AU Memo Letterhead

Dear AU community,

Today, US News released their 2024 Best Colleges rankings, which some consider a measuring stick for higher education. Prospective students and their families use rankings as a resource, though with declining rates and influence. For reasons we will discuss, US News ranked AU #105, down 33 places from last year. I am disappointed in the results, but not for the reasons you may think. I'm disappointed in the choices US News made. By dramatically changing their methodology, US News continued a trend of promising relevant information to students and families, but not accurately delivering it. I am proud of our community’s values, which include transparency, the importance of social mobility, and ensuring we provide value to our students and their families. And those values extend far beyond a single ranking. I’m writing to you today to talk about both values and choices, and importantly, where we are going as a university. 

As you likely know, the US News rankings have been under fire for the past few years, delivering more questions and concerns than answers and information. Unfortunately, this year is worse. US News chose to drastically overhaul their methodology, changing 17 of the 19 factors that produce the rankings and choosing unrepresentative data sources that lead to a lack of credibility in the measures they say they represent. Their questionable methodologies produced a confusing analysis that we can’t reproduce or confirm. In addition, the changes had a disproportionate impact on schools like AU–of 24 institutions in our competitive basket, 19 declined in the rankings and only one moved up.

The choices that US News made to reconfigure their methodology are different from our values in substantial and important ways. Let me give you a few examples.

AU values access to education, providing increased financial aid to our students, enrolling more students who receive federal Pell grants, and supporting first generation students. In fact, 18 percent of our first-year students in 2020-21 were Pell grantees, which is the highest share among private universities in Washington, D.C. that year. US News chose to measure the graduation rates of first-generation students with federal loans who entered college between 2011-2013, a narrow and dated indicator that is known to undercount certain populations including Latino students and others who do not take on loans.

AU values faculty scholarship and research that delivers impact. Our expert faculty produce innovative scholarship, particularly through collaborations and interdisciplinary approaches that produce new thinking and knowledge that allow our faculty and student researchers to expand their impact in the global community. US News chose a narrow approach to research metrics–counting only faculty publications and citations in a limited universe of journals that are heavily weighted toward science, engineering, and medical fields.

AU values experiential learning, offering our students many ways to learn by doing in the classroom and the community. We have more than 200 experiential learning opportunities, more than 90 percent of our students have at least one internship, and more than 60 percent study abroad. We intentionally created more small and intimate classes, so that students can engage with faculty members and each other. Last year, more than 60 percent of our undergraduate sections (totaling 1,019 course offerings) had fewer than 20 students. US News chose to eliminate the class size metric in this year’s rankings.

AU values the outcomes our students achieve after they graduate. Our We Know Success data has been widely available on our website since 2014. This data shows 90 percent of AU graduates are working, in graduate schools, or both, and 92 percent are working in fields related to their degree. US News chose to measure student outcomes by looking only at the percentage of graduates with federal loans who in 2019-2020 made more than the median income of similarly aged high school graduates.

I want to acknowledge that there are areas where we can and must improve. We believe in transparency and accountability for our performance, which helps deliver a modern value proposition for students. We are intensely focused on retention and graduation outcomes because our results in these areas are not where we want them to be. We are continuing our focus on this work, including the development of the Student Thriving Complex.

At AU, we strongly believe in the important role data plays in measuring outcomes. And we remain committed to that idea that transparent measurements are a crucial way to evaluate whether we are fulfilling our value proposition. The US News rankings do not meet this standard.

Moving forward, we plan to enhance data transparency and information sharing about our progress and outcomes. In addition to We Know Success, we also publish our submission to the Common Data Set and make the past seven years of AU’s Academic Data Reference Book available on our website. This fall, we will build on these resources and make them more accessible and user friendly for prospective and current students and families, highlighting areas of interest to them including where we excel and areas where we are working to improve.

At AU, our focus will continue to be on empowering our students to be changemakers. This is a key part of our value proposition, and we remain committed to ensuring that prospective and current students and their families have the information they need to measure our academic quality, educational access, and outcomes.

As always, I remain immensely proud to be an Eagle, not because a number ranks us, but because our values and our impact define us. And I will continue to work with you to build on our progress and our incredible potential.