News & Messages

Top 5 – again

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, again ranks among the very best.

For the 16th year in a row, Carolina – a leading public research university with an uncommon commitment to accessibility and affordability – placed fifth among national public universities in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges” rankings, published today (Sept. 13) on

“What helped place Carolina among the top five public universities in this ranking for the 16th consecutive year is a continuing dedication to excellence,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “I am so proud of our students, faculty and staff who make a difference through their excellent scholarship, research and public service. They are making valuable contributions in our state, nation and world by dedicating themselves to tackling the most challenging problems of the day.”

UNC-Chapel Hill is among the same five public universities perennially at the top of U.S. News & World Report’s rankings. This year, the University of California at Berkeley placed first, followed by the University of California at Los Angeles, second; the University of Virginia, third; and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, fourth.

U.S. News & World Report bases the rankings on several weighted key measures of quality: graduation and retention rates (22.5 percent), assessment of excellence by academic peers and high school counselors (22.5 percent), faculty resources (20 percent), student selectivity (12.5 percent), financial resources (10 percent), graduation rate performance (difference between actual and U.S. News’ predicted graduation rates, 7.5 percent) and alumni giving (5 percent).

Carolina received a record 35,875 applications for fall 2016 admission – up 12 percent over last year and the second largest increase in the last 25 years. Among the 71 percent of the class whose schools reported an official rank in class, 43 percent ranked in the top 10 students of their high school class. Thirteen percent ranked first or second, and 78 percent ranked in the top 10 percent.

The Carolina Firsts program has created a pathway of opportunity for the 17 percent of this year’s class who are the first in their family to attend a four-year college or university.

Carolina provides outstanding access and affordability through nationally recognized programs like the Carolina Covenant, which for more than a decade has offered low-income students who earn admission the opportunity to graduate debt free.

UNC-Chapel Hill meets 100 percent of the documented need of undergraduates qualifying for need-based aid who apply on time, and meets more than two-thirds of that need with grants and scholarships thanks in large part to the contributions of generous donors. Of seniors who graduated in 2015, about 60 percent graduated with no debt. The average cumulative debt of the two in five who borrowed from all sources was about $20,127. Those debt levels have stayed flat in constant dollars for more than a decade.

That level of commitment to making a Carolina education available to deserving students is a key reason the campus has been ranked first among the 100 best U.S. public colleges and universities that offer high-quality academics at an affordable price 15 consecutive times by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.

In the U.S. News & World Report rankings, UNC-Chapel Hill again was ranked 30th overall among both public and private universities and colleges. Last year, Boston College tied for that spot with Carolina but dropped to 31st this year. The other top publics were 20th (UC-Berkeley), tied for 24th (UCLA and Virginia); and tied for 27th (Michigan).

UNC-Chapel Hill’s other U.S. News rankings included the following:

  • First among national public universities for the 12th consecutive year and 12th overall, in “Great Schools, Great Prices,” based on academic quality and the 2015-2016 net cost of attendance for a student receiving the average level of need-based financial aid.
  • 11th among publics and 18th overall among national universities for least debt, with 41 percent of seniors graduating with debt.
  • A 97 percent average first-year retention rate for the eighth consecutive year, and a 90 percent average six-year graduation rate, 1 percentage point better than U.S. News predicted.
  • Only 14 percent of 2015 course sections enrolled 50 or more students, tied with Virginia for the lowest rate among the top five publics. UNC-Chapel Hill has been first on this list for nine years running. Forty-two percent of Carolina’s course sections enrolled fewer than 20 students. UC-Berkeley continues to lead the top publics at 60 percent.
  • Fifth among the top publics and 89th overall in faculty resources. UNC-Chapel Hill was 86th last year after placing as high as 47th six years ago. This category measures undergraduate class size; two academic years (2014-2015 and 2015-2016) of average total faculty compensation (salary and benefits) based on indexes weighted for regional differences; student-faculty ratio; and percentage of faculty who are full time and earned their field’s highest degree.
  • Tied for second among public universities with Virginia and tied for 23rd overall in high school counselors’ top picks.
  • Tied for ninth overall and tied for fourth among publics in best undergraduate business programs. Among specialty areas, Kenan-Flagler Business School ranked fourth in management.
  • Fifth among publics and tied for 18th overall in best colleges for veterans, a reflection of the strong support UNC-Chapel Hill increasingly provides to military students through initiatives including the UNC Core, a distance-learning program; Green Zone training; Student Veterans Resources; and the Warrior Scholar Project.
  • Three mentions under “Programs to Look For” – outstanding examples of academic programs that lead to student success. UNC-Chapel Hill appears in the categories for first-year experience, service learning, and undergraduate research/creative projects.

By Mike McFarland, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Published September 13, 2016