Several recent university rankings attest to the quality of education at Adventist universities across the U.S.1 These include the recently released rankings of U.S. News and World Report, Niche, and The Wall Street Journal.
University rankings are ubiquitous in the United States educational experience. Every fall, several college rankings are released to help prospective students and their families compare the strength and value of colleges and universities across the country. Such rankings are based on a formula that calculates a weighted average of several metrics of educational success, from graduation rates and faculty expertise to student-faculty ratio and a university’s reputation.
Over the years, these rankings have faced numerous critiques, as some question if the subjective criteria and seemingly arbitrary weighting used to determine the rankings accurately reflect the quality of education offered on a campus. Moreover, recently some high-ranking institutions have been accused of gaming the system by manipulating their data.
Certainly, Christian families should be aware that there may be many aspects of a college experience important to them, such as a faith-affirming curriculum or spiritually nurturing environment, that are not factored into such rankings. Therefore, prospective students and their families should think wholistically about which university or college best aligns with their goals and values, carefully considering the various factors for themselves rather than relying too heavily on any national ranking system.
Still, university rankings can provide glimpses into what a particular school is doing well, or better than others.
A Leader in Their Regions
In the recently released U.S. News and World Report rankings, nearly every Adventist campus in the U.S. was recognized as being a leader in its region (West, South, Midwest, and North) for social mobility, which measures how well universities serve students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and overall best value, a category that weighs both the quality and affordability of higher education.
Incredibly, La Sierra University ranked No. 4 among regional universities in the West for social mobility. Similarly, Pacific Union College (PUC) ranked No. 12 for social mobility among colleges in the West, and the Universidad Adventista de las Antillas in Puerto Rico ranked No. 8 among universities in the South.
Adventist universities were also ranked as some of the best value higher education options in America, with Union College recognized as No. 10 among colleges in the West. Walla Walla University, La Sierra, and Southern Adventist University ranked in the top 50 universities in their regions for best value. Andrews University is classified by U.S. News as a national university rather than a regional university, and was recognized as among the best in the nation for student-focused learning as measured by small class sizes and a low student-to-faculty ratio, ranking in both metrics in the top 10 percent of national universities. Finally, Oakwood University ranked in the top half of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Taking Student Satisfaction into Account
Niche offers an alternative ranking system to that of U.S. News, informed by national student surveys to gauge student satisfaction as well as more traditional metrics of academic quality. These rankings also allow one to focus the search on faith-based universities, producing a list of more than 300 of the best Christian colleges.
Adventist universities are well represented on this list. For instance, Andrews ranked No. 14 nationally and the No. 1 Christian college in the state of Michigan. Walla Walla (No. 74), Union (No. 81), Southern (No. 88), and Southwestern Adventist University (No. 93) also are recognized among the best Christian colleges nationally. Notably, Walla Walla and Andrews were also identified as among the top ten Christian colleges nationally for overall best value.
Southern and Southwestern are also ranked as among the nation’s best colleges serving Hispanics, something that highlights their important role in serving one of the nation’s fastest growing student populations. Adventist universities get high marks for overall diversity. Andrews is recognized as the second most diverse campus in America, and nearly all other Adventist campuses are also listed among the nation’s most diverse colleges.
Several academic programs at Adventist universities were also recognized by Niche as being among the best in the nation. La Sierra’s criminal justice program ranks in the top 5 percent of programs in the nation and one of the top five best criminal justice programs in California. Andrews’ physical therapy and biology programs were among the top 25 percent of programs in the nation. PUC, Southern, and Union received high marks for their nursing and biology programs. Numerous other programs at various Adventist universities were also recognized.
Ranking Student Experience
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in partnership with College Pulse, recently released a set of national university rankings. Andrews University makes the list of the nation’s top 400 universities and ranks No. 1 in Michigan for student experience, a category that includes various aspects of campus life and surveys of student satisfaction and well-being. The WSJ ranking also calculated the value added of an undergraduate degree from Andrews to be more than US$25,000 a year in higher salary compared to high school graduates. This accords with a Georgetown University analysis from 2019 which that found that the present value of the lifetime increase in wages from earning a bachelor’s degree from one of the Adventist universities to be on average around a million dollars.2
Of course, the value of higher education cannot be calculated merely in monetary terms or reduced to the quantitative metrics that power university rankings. Ultimately, as Seventh-day Adventists, we believe that the goal of education is redemptive, helping students to find their purpose today and serve God joyfully for eternity. Nevertheless, the national rankings summarized here help to confirm the significant added value of Adventist higher education as measured by traditional metrics even as we focus on pursuing that higher aim.
1. Given their specialized mission, Adventist health-care universities, including Loma Linda University, AdventHealth University, and Kettering College, are not included in many national rankings that focus on comprehensive undergraduate programs and therefore are not mentioned in this analysis. Similarly, Burman University and other Adventist colleges and universities outside of the United States are not included.
2. See Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, and Martin Van Der Werf, “A First Try at ROI: Ranking 4,500 Colleges,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (2019), https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/College_ROI.pdf.