"Princeton had been number one for a number of years and Harvard has snuck in there now, with the same perfect score of 100," Brian Kelly, managing editor of U.S. News, told CBS Radio News. "Washington University in St. Louis has been, for a number of years, moving up in the rankings. Duke has been moving up. University of Pennsylvania has also crept into the top ten."
Washington, celebrating its 150th anniversary, moved up three spots from last year to ninth, tying with Dartmouth. The ranking is the St. Louis school's top undergraduate showing by U.S. News since the magazine began its rankings in the 1980s.
Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton called the recognition "rewarding."
Yale University is ranked third, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology fourth. Four schools — the California Institute of Technology, Duke, Stanford University and Penn — share the fifth spot.
The University of California-Berkeley and the University of Virginia, tied at No. 21, are the top-rated public universities. Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., is rated the country's best liberal arts college.
U.S. News uses a formula that includes graduation and retention rates, faculty resources and other factors to determine the rankings, which are both popular and controversial.
"We look at things like the faculty resources, what's the student-teacher ratio, how big are classes, how small are they, what kind of facilities does a campus have," said Kelly. "If the school has a lot of kids dropping out, for instance, and in particular dropping out after freshman year, usually it's an indicator that something's not right there, so we put a lot of weight on that."
Critics have long contended that parents and high school students rely far too heavily on U.S. News in choosing schools, and that colleges gear some of their efforts — such as admissions — toward getting high rankings.
"We don't like the notion that some colleges are acting in response to the rankings," said Kelly. "We think that's a shame."
This year's results will be published in the Monday edition of the magazine.
U.S. News ranked St. Louis' Washington University third in financial resources, 11th in faculty resources and ninth in selectivity and alumni giving. Washington University's business school was ranked 14th among national universities and fifth among private business schools. Washington's engineering and applied science school rose six spots to 38th, tying with 10 other schools that include Yale, Brown and Notre Dame.
For the first time, U.S. News has ranked national universities from 1 through 150. Third and fourth-tier schools are left unranked. Last year, the magazine published a top 50 list and left second- through fourth-tier schools unranked.
In determining the latest rankings, the magazine stopped factoring in yield — the percentage of students that accept admissions offered by a university — into its equation.
That seemed to make little difference in the rankings: Of the top 20 national universities, only one school — Vanderbilt — moved into that group and it was ranked 21st last year.
Kelly said the magazine may drop high school class rankings from next year's survey.