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2020 U.S. News College Rankings: What Can They Tell Us About Adventist Colleges and Universities?


U.S. News just released its 2020 Best Colleges rankings on September 8. Published annually since 1985, they are the most widely read of any national rankings of colleges and universities. While they are often criticized for the predictability of the rankings of elite schools like Yale or Carleton, based on wealth and status rather than student learning, what — if anything — might they tell us about the eight Adventist undergraduate institutions in the United States?

The Takeaway

Adventist colleges and universities in the United States are doing well, considering their non-elite status, lack of large endowments, and faith-based missions to help anyone who qualifies to attend and succeed. While the rankings change from year to year, in 2020 congratulations go to Pacific Union College (PUC) and Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU).

Overall Rankings

PUC is the only Adventist school in the “Top Ten” category, though SWAU is a close second at 11. All Adventist schools are in the top 40% or better (excluding Andrews University (AU), as I explain shortly).

This indicator covers a fairly long list of items (see table below) and is certainly the one most comprehensive score. However, its relative meaning depends in part on the category where a school finds itself. For example, AU has been placed in the National Universities category, with 399 schools. This gives it the unhelpful ranking of 293-381 — essentially meaningless. On the other hand, Walla Walla University (WWU), La Sierra University (LSU), and Southern Adventist University (SAU) are in the Regional Universities classification, in groups of about 130. This makes their rankings of 49 (WWU), 50 (SAU), and 53 (LSU), more meaningful: they are all three in the top 40% of comparable small universities. Similarly, Oakwood University (OU), SWAU, Union College (UC), and PUC are considered Regional Colleges. These groups vary more widely. OU is 46 in a group of 136 (top 34%), UC is 32 in a group of 88 (top 36%), and UC and PUC are in a group of 103, scoring 11 and 10 respectively. 

Every year there are other, secondary categories. This year there were six; however, no Adventist school was able to make the “Most Innovative” or the “Undergraduate Teaching” lists. But there were Adventist schools in each of the other four categories, as follows:

Best for Veterans

Only two Adventist schools manage to show in this category: PUC ranks 7/103, while SAU ranks 31/136.

Best Value

Four schools are ranked here: PUC is 4/103, LSU is 23/128, UC is 24/88, and SAU is 36/136.

Social Mobility

All the Adventist schools but one — WWU — rank in this area. This is good news. The mission of Adventist higher education should include improving the lot of the less fortunate, and the fact that so many lower income students are doing well in Adventist colleges and universities is heartening. The big winner here is SWAU, which ranked #3 in its class of 103, the highest single ranking in any area for Adventist schools.


Adventists can be proud of the quality of the Adventist Colleges and Universities in the United States; we all should urge potential students to consider an Adventist education.

Table of 202 U.S. News Rankings of Adventist Schools

Overall Ranking: Quality is determined by a complex mix of factors such as graduation and retention rates, faculty degrees, class size, student SAT/ACT scores, spending per student on academic resources, alumni giving, and so on. For much more detail, click here to go to the U.S. News website.

Best for Veterans: The institution is certified for the GI Bill, the institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and for the third consecutive year the institution must have enrolled a minimum of 20 veterans and active service members, or a critical mass, in the 2018-2019 academic year. Includes only schools in the top half of their category.

Social Mobility: The score is based on the graduation and retention rates of Pell-grant eligible students (from households with incomes below $50,000). Schools get credit for having large numbers of Pell eligible students, and for having high success rates for those students, relative to non-Pell recipients.

Best Value: All schools in the top half of their 2020 Best Colleges ranking categories were numerically ranked based on their weighted score of three variables: the ratio of quality to price accounted for 60% of the overall score, the percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based grants accounted for 25%, and the average discount accounted for 15%.


Nancy Hoyt Lecourt is Professor of English and Academic Dean Emerita at Pacific Union College. She is retired and living in Angwin, California.

Image credit: U.S. News Best Colleges website


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