At this late date, there are enough caveats accompanying U.S. News and World Report's annual college rankings that no one would confuse this with science. Buried within the fine print, this is how the magazine answers the why-even-bother question: "You wouldn't go out and buy a computer or a car without making sure it was the best you could afford given your budget. The same rule should apply in choosing a college." In other words, given the wide-ranging methodology that takes into account everything from price tag to "undergraduate academic reputation" to graduation rates to alumni giving to input from high-school guidance counselors, this is just a jumping-off point -- a conversation-starter. Even SMU President R. Gerald Turner can't pat his school on the back without offering the preface: "Although ranking universities is a controversial venture at best ..."
When last we checked in with these rankings, in '08, SMU came in at No. 66; last year it dropped two slots, before rebounding on the just-released Best Colleges 2011 list to No. 56 -- its best ranking ever on the magazine's list of best national colleges. Two Texas universities come in ahead of SMU (Rice at 17, the University of Texas at 45); 12 follow -- with TCU just cracking the Top 100 list at No. 99, and the University of Texas at Dallas pulling up at No. 143. (Locally, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Arlington are considered Tier 2 unis and thusly go unranked.)
Controversial ventures aside, Gerald Turner's nevertheless pleased with the Hilltop's high ranking this year: "The timing is particularly relevant as we prepare to celebrate the University's centennial, beginning next year, and as we remain committed to achievement at the highest levels," he says in a statement this morning.