Penn’s standing in the ranks of global universities is on the rise.

A week after placing 16th on the annual “World University Rankings” by Times Higher Education, Penn was named the ninth best higher-education institution in the world by U.S. News and World Report.

Based on data from the 2011 “QS World University Rankings,” the U.S. News “World’s Best Universities” rankings released on Tuesday placed Penn behind just four American institutions — Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University and the University of Chicago.

Penn’s global rank stands in contrast to its spot on the annual U.S. News list of top national universities, which was released last month. Whereas those rankings put the University in a five-way tie for fifth place behind schools like Princeton and Columbia universities, Penn came in higher than both institutions on the more recent, international list.

This year’s list marks the fourth annual version of U.S. News’ world university rankings. Princeton and Columbia placed 13th and 10th, respectively. Last year, Penn finished 12th, directly behind the two schools.

“It’s wonderful to see us ranked so high in the global rankings, and I think this is a reflection of the incredible work our faculty have done on an international stage,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “I’m particularly pleased because we have made our global engagement a key part of Penn’s main priorities, and [this] shows that our global engagement is very recognized.”

INTERACTIVE: 2011 university rankings

For some, however, the global rankings do not say much about Penn’s place in the world.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said “any slight alterations to the weighting of variables used in a ranking like this can have pretty profound changes. There’s no real statistical basis to conclude that a small change in rank is at all significant.”

He added that he was “not surprised at all” by the flip between Penn, Princeton and Columbia, since “methodology matters a lot.”

Top Colleges educational consultant Steven Goodman, who received his master’s degree in education from the Graduate School of Education in 1989, agreed. Though Goodman acknowledged that students and families “definitely put more importance on the national rankings” than on the international list, he said Penn’s global placement should not go unnoticed.

“I think we need to welcome the world rankings more than we do now because they help put in context the work we’re doing over here in the U.S.,” he said.

For the second year in a row, the University of Cambridge topped Harvard for the best university in the world.

Sydney Schneider, a senior at the University School of Nova Southeastern University in Florida who is applying early decision to Penn, said the rankings are “relatively meaningless because what separates one school from another is so small.”

In order to help students like Schneider better utilize rankings in the college admissions process, Hawkins said organizations like U.S. News should consider a system in which applicants can assign their own weights to ranking criteria and develop a list accordingly.

“The more personalized a set of rankings can be, the better off they are,” he said. “You have to think of students first.”

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