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US Universities in the Rankings: Public Versus Private

US Universities in the Rankings: Public Versus Private main image

Want to know how US universities performed in 2018? CLICK HERE for an updated version of this article.

How do US universities fare in the latest QS World University Rankings, and how are economic challenges affecting the performance of the country’s publicly funded institutions?

The US has always dominated international university rankings, and it continues to do so. In the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014, the top two positions are both taken by US institutions – neighbors MIT and Harvard. MIT first topped the ranking last year, while Harvard has climbed up a place this year, overtaking the UK’s Cambridge.

It’s also good news for Stanford University, which climbs from 15th place last year, to rank 7th. Also within the world’s top 10 are Yale (8th), the University of Chicago (9th), California Institute of Technology and Princeton University (joint 10th).

Beyond this, US universities account for more than half of the top 20 entries, just under a third of the top 100, and a quarter of the top 200.

Budget cuts affecting public universities

However, while the US remains the best-represented country in the rankings, there are signs that budget cuts since the 2007/8 recession are having an impact on the performance of its public universities.

While private US universities continue to dominate the top tiers of the ranking, public universities have dropped an average of 20 places since the financial crisis of 2007/8.

Of the 45 US public universities in the global top 400, 32 now rank lower than in 2007. And while 11 US private institutions make the top 20, the highest ranked US public university (the University of Michigan) does not appear until 22nd.

Researchers warn that this apparent decline of public universities, combined with soaring tuition fees, could mean many US students face being priced out of a world-class education.

Gap widening between top US universities and the rest

“The top handful of US public and private institutions have maintained their global standing, but the picture elsewhere is one of relative decline,” says QS head of research Ben Sowter. “Budget cuts have had an impact on research reputation, and hiring reductions have contributed to higher student-to-faculty ratios at some public institutions.”

Just five US public universities make the global top 100 for their student-to-faculty ratio, compared to 24 US private universities.

These findings follow a decade of federal budget cuts to public universities. Overall federal funding for major public research universities per enrolled student fell from US$9,427 in 2002, to $9,377 in 2006, and to $9,082 in 2010.

OECD data shows that the US has dropped to sixteenth in the world for its proportion of adults with a college degree, and is the only country in which degree attainment levels among 25-34 year olds do not exceed those of 55- to 64-year-olds.

“While the US continues to dominate these rankings in terms of its research output, there is a genuine concern that the neglect of public institutions over the past decade may be pricing many students out of a world-class higher education,” says Sowter.

Search and compare universities using the QS World University Rankings >

Top 20 US universities in the QS World University Rankings® 2013/2014

University

Public/private

World ranking 2013/14

World ranking 2008/09

Change

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Private

1

9

↑8

Harvard University

Private

2

1

↓1

Stanford University

Private

7

17

↑10

Yale University

Private

8

2

↓6

University of Chicago

Private

9

8

↓1

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

Private

10=

5

↓5

Princeton University

Private

10=

12

↑2

University of Pennsylvania

Private

13

11

↓2

Columbia University

Private

14

10

↓4

Cornell University

Private

15

15

=

Johns Hopkins University

Private

16

13

↓3

University of Michigan

Public

22

18

↓4

Duke University

Private

23

13

↓3

University of California, Berkeley

Public

25

36

↑11

Northwestern University

Private

29

33

↑4

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Public

37

55

↑18

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Public

40

30

↓10

New York University

Private

44

40

↓4

Brown University

Private

47

27

↓20

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Public

54

102

↑51

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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1 Comment

Laura, thanks for this article. Is there any way to sort the full rankings by public versus private universities?