Leading the ranking were Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale University. Following Penn, California Institute of Technology and Princeton University tied for fifth place.
The WSJ/THE ranking claims to emphasize the return on investment from attending a school, in contrast to other rankings that focus on schools' selectivities.
Times Higher Education reported that schools were ranked based on four criteria, each of which was given a different weight. According to the Wall Street Journal, Penn ranked fifth for the first criterion, "outcomes," which made up 40% of the ranking decision. Outcomes quantifies schools' graduation rates, salary after graduation, academic prestige, and median student debt acquired. Penn also ranked ninth in the "resources" category, which made up 30% of the ranking decision and measures how much schools spend on teaching and student services.
Penn ranked significantly lower in the remaining two categories, "engagement" and "environment." It was ranked No. 93 for engagement, which was weighted at 20%. Engagement represents students' academic experiences, such as whether they have opportunities to interact with professors, whether they feel challenged by their courses, and how many subjects are available for them to study.
Penn was also ranked No. 135 in the environment category, which carried a 10% weight and quantifies diversity and inclusion on campus. Other top schools overall also fell short in the least-weighted categories: Harvard was ranked 150th for environment, MIT was ranked 107th, and Yale was ranked 93rd.
Penn holds the top ranking among schools in Pennsylvania. It is followed by Carnegie Mellon University and Swarthmore College, which placed 25th and 28th, respectively. When ranking schools by specific areas of study, Penn was listed as No. 2 for both health professions and business-related fields, two of the most popular fields among undergraduates.
Penn’s 2020 placement in the WSJ/THE ranking is a jump from years past. The 2019 list, published in September 2018, ranked Penn 10th, while the University was eighth in the 2018 rankings. Penn was also ranked fourth in the 2017 list, the first time the rankings were published.
The Wall Street Journal reported that since last year, it has changed its ranking methodology to look at median student debt as opposed to student loan default rates. It also now includes part-time and transfer students in addition to first-time, full-time students.
Last year’s U.S. News and World Report ranking also listed Penn as No. 8 overall for the third year in a row. The 2020 U.S. News and World Report rankings have yet to be released.
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