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Published: Friday, 8/22/2008

Harvard reclaims No. 1 ranking as top U.S. university


NEW YORK - Harvard University is the country's oldest, wealthiest, and most selective university. Now it's back on top of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, claiming sole possession of the No. 1 spot for the first time in 12 years.

Princeton slips to No. 2, ending eight years of at least sharing the top ranking. The latest edition hits newsstands Monday, but was to be published today on the magazine's Web site.

Yale follows at No. 3, and MIT and Stanford tie for fourth. The University of California, Berkeley, is the highest-ranked public university, at No. 21 overall. Michigan is 26th, and Ohio State is 56th.

In the list for liberal arts colleges, Amherst moves up one spot to tie Williams for the top spot.

In an e-mailed statement, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Robert Mitchell said that "it is always nice to be recognized in this way. However, our admissions officers always tell prospective students that they should select a college or university that best suits their needs, not by its position in a ranking."

The ranking formula takes account of factors such as SAT scores, peer reputation, selectivity, and alumni giving.

So how did Harvard edge past its Ivy League rival? A comparison of last year's numbers points to one category where it moved ahead of Princeton - average class size. Since 2000, Mr. Mitchell said, Harvard has added 86 freshman seminars (which have fewer than 12 students) and more than 100 tenure-track faculty.

While U.S. News' often-criticized but closely followed rankings typically get the most attention, they rarely change much. So the magazine has been adding lists to keep things interesting.

Debuting this year are rankings identifying "Up and Comers" - innovative institutions that college officials identify as poised to move up in coming years. Topping that list are George Mason University in Virginia, Clemson in South Carolina, the University of Southern California, and Arizona State.

The U.S. News rankings remain the best-known, but have spawned a range of competitors. The latest include Forbes.com, which published its first-ever rankings this month, focusing on student achievement and ranking Princeton at the top.

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