Notes on US News Rankings for 2020

US News frequently changes its college ranking methodology. Those changes, together with choices US News has made about how to handle tied scores, means that small differences can get magnified. A school’s rank can change significantly in one year even when observable measures show no more change than in years past. This year, Davidson was one of those schools, moving from 10th last year to 17th this year.

What Was Different?

Davidson’s overall score was one point below those at 14th, two points below 11th and three points below 10th.

  • The most significant are two new factors, variables that US News added to its calculations. The first new factor looked at the graduation rates of first-year students who received Pell grants* seven and eight years ago (classes that entered Davidson in 2011 and 2012) and compared that to the graduation rates of students in those classes who did not receive Pell grants. Because US News looks at six-year graduation rates, these years are the most recent comparable data available. US News also added a “social mobility” score that weighted that comparison by the proportion of all students with Pell grants. This is an important issue, and it makes sense for US News to consider graduation rates across the socio-economic spectrum (we monitor graduation rates on campus and it does appear that these two class years—those entering in 2011 and 2012—were atypical when compared to the following years).
  • Our standardized test scores are lower than the top 10 schools, in part because we use more reliable indicators of success, such as whether an applicant took the most challenging classes available to them and how they did.  Although we will examine this finding more closely, our admission team and leadership has confidence that a holistic approach is the most appropriate way of determining who among applicants is most likely to succeed and benefit from Davidson.

Pell grants are federally managed and support lower income students. The maximum Pell grant is about $6,195 per year.

Where We are Focused

While US News and other ratings don’t drive decisions at Davidson, they are helpful. The senior leadership team reviews our practices when rankings highlight factors important to our mission. Graduation rates are very important. Davidson has a foundational commitment to recruiting and enrolling talented students from all backgrounds. Talent is not income-correlated and therefore graduation rates shouldn’t be either.

Our campus community works hard to create an environment where all of these talented young people can learn. This means understanding challenges that disproportionately affect first generation and low-income students. Interestingly, research suggests that when we foster a genuinely inclusive environment, all students benefit.  

We continue to learn how we can improve and we seek out ideas from other institutions. Some recent steps at Davidson include: 

  • Strengthening support and mentoring that can be helpful to first generation students, including a holistic advising program, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Lula Bell Houston Resource Center, expanded options for housing and dining over campus holidays, more internship funding, inclusive pedagogy initiatives across the curriculum, and a variety of grant opportunities for co-curricular pursuits.
  • Aggressively raising additional scholarship funds.
  • Building a partnership with the College Advising Corps, which focuses on helping low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students enter and complete post-secondary education.
  • Participating in the American Talent Initiative, a group of institutions committed to recruiting and graduating talented low-income students whose members share best practices. 

We know we have much more to learn. As noted above, we monitor graduation rates for all students, and available information for more recent years suggests that Pell recipients graduate (or will) at rates comparable or in some cases slightly higher than the rate for the student body.


  • September 6, 2019