How U.S. News Collects Best Colleges Rankings Data

Find out the sources used to compile our Best Colleges survey questions

By Robert Morse
September 9, 2015


U.S. News strongly believes in the transparency of the data collection and ranking process. As part of these efforts, we want to discuss the source of some of the data questions we use on the annual U.S. News statistical survey sent to colleges. 
U.S. News uses almost all the questions from the Common Data Set as part of our survey. The Common Data Set is a set of standards and definitions for higher education data that are collected by publishers and used in higher education research. The Common Data Set is not a survey, and there isn't a central database that holds each school's Common Data Set. 
The Common Data Set has been a collaborative effort between publishers and higher education officials that has improved the quality and accuracy of information provided by colleges and made available to consumers. U.S. News is one of the three publishers that manage the Common Data Set initiative.
The 2015-2016 Common Data Set has been finalized and is ready for use on 2015-2016 college and university statistical data collection surveys conducted by participating publishers. It should be noted that all three of the participating publishers (listed below) ask many additional questions of colleges beyond what is covered in the set.

Responses to these additional questions are used on each publisher's website and in print products. 
In the case of U.S. News & World Report, some of the additional data we ask for on our annual statistical surveys – such as faculty salaries, financial information from a school's annual operating budget and alumni giving data – are used as indicators in the ranking methodology to compute the Best Colleges rankings. Most of the questions U.S. News asks that are not part of the Common Data Set appear on our website as part of each college's profile but are not part of the ranking methodology.
The 2015-2016 Common Data Set can be downloaded or printed out at the initiative's website. Publishers participating in the initiative include: 
  • The College Board
  • Peterson's
  • U.S. News & World Report 
You can be an active participant in the CDS initiative by joining the CDS electronic discussion group. Join the CDS forums or read current messages on the forums, which can be accessed from the College Board website.