KU ranked No. 56 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report; it’s now the 2nd-highest ranked public school in Big 12
photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World
Updated at 2:35 p.m. Monday
The University of Kansas has inched ahead two more spots in the closely watched university rankings from U.S. News & World Report, which published its 2023 edition on Monday.
KU finished No. 56 among all public schools ranked by the media company, up from No. 58 in last year’s report. Among all universities — both public and private — KU moved up one spot to No. 121.
KU continues to be the top-ranked university in the state, and now is fourth among current members of the Big 12 Conference, and is second in the conference among public universities, trailing only departing Texas. KU’s standing in the Big 12 is up slightly. A year ago, it was tied for fourth in the conference, sharing the spot with Iowa State. KU, though, improved in the rankings while Iowa State fell five spots.
“We appreciate that prospective students and their families may look to these rankings, and we always prefer to increase our standing,” KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a press release. “Still, we remain focused on our own measures of success. We continue to refine those measures through our ongoing university strategic planning and Higher Learning Commission accreditation processes.”
Here’s a look at the complete Big 12 rankings, including each school’s ranking change from a year ago. The numbers are overall rankings for public and private schools, as the conference has two private school members: Baylor and TCU.
— Texas: No. 38, unchanged.
• Baylor: No. 77, down two spots.
• TCU: No. 89, down six spots.
• KU: No. 121, up one spot.
• Oklahoma: No. 127, unchanged.
• Iowa State: No. 127, down five spots.
• Kansas State: No. 166, down four spots.
• Oklahoma State: No. 182, up five spots.
• Texas Tech: No. 219, down six spots.
• West Virginia: No. 234, up 15 spots.
Those rankings will change once a reorganization of the Big 12 Conference is complete in the next couple of years. Texas and Oklahoma both have announced plans to leave the Big 12 Conference and join the SEC. The Big 12 has announced plans to add Brigham Young University, the University of Houston, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Central Florida.
As the rankings stand now, KU is projected to be the top-ranked public school in the Big 12. Three of the four new schools are public, but none of them currently rank above KU in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. However, BYU — the private addition to the conference — does rank highly at No. 89 nationally, which would tie it for the second highest ranking in the conference, behind Baylor and equal to TCU. Among the public additions, Central Florida is the highest ranked at No. 137, while Cincinnati is No. 151 and Houston is No. 182.
When conference reorganization is done among the “power five conferences” — UCLA and USC have announced plans to move to the Big Ten — the Big 12 will be in a unique position, and one that probably won’t make many conference highlight reels. It will be the only power five conference that doesn’t have a single school ranked in the top 50. In fact, every other power conference has at least one school ranked in the top 15, while the Big 12’s highest ranking will be Baylor at No. 77, as the rankings now stand.
Here’s a look at the power 5 schools that are ranked in the top 50 overall national rankings, broken down by conference. Schools that have announced they are moving to a new conference are shown in that new conference.
• Big Ten: Northwestern, No. 10; UCLA, No. 20; USC, No. 25; Michigan, No. 25; Wisconsin, No. 38; Illinois, No. 41; Ohio State, No. 49.
• ACC: Duke, No. 10; Virginia, No. 25; North Carolina, No. 29; Wake Forest, No. 29; Georgia Tech, No. 44.
• SEC: Vanderbilt, No. 13; Florida, No. 29; Texas, No. 38; Georgia, No. 49.
• Pac 12: Stanford, No. 3; University of California-Berkeley, No. 20.
• Big 12: None
While the U.S. News & World Report rankings haven’t been mentioned much, talk of academic reputation has factored into discussions regarding conference realignment. Some KU fans have speculated, for example, that KU could be a candidate to move to the Big Ten Conference due to KU’s membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities, among other factors. However, the latest rankings show that KU would have the second lowest U.S. News & World Report ranking of any school in the Big Ten, ahead of only Nebraska at No. 151. The average Big Ten ranking is 55.
KU, however, does still have membership in the AAU, which is considered to represent the top research universities in North America. But, as the Journal-World reported last year, KU in the 2022 U.S. News rankings was tied for last among all public universities that are in the AAU. That held true in the most recent ranking too. KU is tied for last with Missouri at No. 121. In last year’s rankings KU was tied for last with both Missouri and Iowa State, but Iowa State has since seen its AAU membership end.
Here’s a look at the rankings of the public AAU schools: UCLA, No. 20 ; California-Berkeley, No. 20; Michigan, No. 25 ; Virginia, No. 25 ; Florida, No. 29 ; North Carolina, No. 29; California-Santa Barbara, No. 32 ; California-San Diego, No. 34; California-Irvine, No. 34; Texas, No. 38; California-Davis, No. 38; Wisconsin, No. 38; Illinois, No. 41; Georgia Tech, No. 44; Ohio State, No. 49; Purdue, No. 51; Maryland, No. 55; Washington, No. 55; Rutgers, No. 55; Pittsburgh, No. 62; Minnesota, No. 62; Texas A&M, No. 67; Indiana, No. 72; Penn State, No. 77; Michigan State, No. 77; Stony Brook, No. 77; Iowa, No. 83; California-Santa Cruz, No. 83; Buffalo, No. 89; Colorado, No. 97; Oregon, No. 105; Utah, No. 105 ;; Arizona, No. 105 ; KU, No. 121 ; Missouri, No. 121 .
AAU leaders have never indicated that U.S. News & World Report rankings play any role in how the AAU chooses which schools to add or drop from its membership rolls. But nonetheless some faculty members have expressed increasing concern over the years that KU’s membership in the organization could be at risk.
KU leaders have acknowledged the risk and have said maintaining membership is among KU’s highest strategic priorities, as the affiliation is a major tool in student recruitment. Girod, who sits on the AAU board, has said he thinks KU is strengthening its standing in the organization, particularly citing the KU Medical Center’s recent designation as a comprehensive cancer center, plus growth in federal research grants coming to the Lawrence campus for a variety of projects.
The U.S. News & World Report rankings, also, are not universally viewed as a good measure of a school’s overall quality. National media outlets, for example, have reported that U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona recently said many college ranking programs are “a joke” because they place too much emphasis on a school’s prestige and not enough emphasis on issues like affordability and student outcomes.
Over the years, KU has placed different levels of importance on the U.S. News & World Report rankings. In 2002, then-Chancellor Robert Hemenway set a goal for KU to be a top 25 public university in the rankings by 2010. At the time KU was ranked No. 41. In subsequent years, KU got a ranking of No. 39, and back in 1998 it was ranked at No. 30, according to past Journal-World articles.
After Hemenway’s tenure, however, KU chancellors have not set such specific goals related to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, but have said they are an important factor in getting the attention of potential students.
KU, in a press release on Monday, highlighted other items of note from this year’s rankings:
• KU’s School of Nursing ranked No. 22 among public schools and No. 29 among all universities. That No. 22 ranking is unchanged from a year ago.
• KU’s School of Business ranked No. 42 among public business schools. That ranking is down one spot from a year ago.
• KU’s School of Engineering ranked No. 51 among public engineering schools. That ranking is unchanged from a year ago.
• KU ranked No. 22 among public schools in the “best value” category. That’s an improvement of two spots from a year ago.
• KU ranked No. 53 among public schools in the category of Best Colleges for Veterans. That’s an improvement of three spots from a year ago.