University of Iowa drops slightly in US News rankings

The University of Iowa dropped slightly in the rankings this year, but maintained its rank among public universities.

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Thomas A. Stewart

The Old Capital is seen on Tuesday, September 18, 2018.

Rachel Schilke and Rylee Wilson


The University of Iowa slid in the touted national US News and World Report rankings for top national universities, but maintained its ranking among public universities from the previous year.

Every year, US News releases its rankings of the top national universities and public universities, which are indicators of academic quality, and used by incoming students when looking for a prospective college.

The UI moved down four spots from No. 84 in the 2020 rankings to No. 88 nationally. Its ranking of No. 34 for public universities – which was held in last year’s 2020 rankings, as well – remains the same. 

The rankings are based on several categories rating an institution’s retention, academics, and financial factors. The UI decreased in the categories of financial resources, faculty resources, average alumni giving rate, Pell Grant recipient graduates, and social mobility rate. 

The rankings were determined by fall 2019 data and earlier, and do not demonstrate any impact that COVID-19 had on institutions. The effects from COVID-19 on universities will show in the fiscal 22 data.

US News wrote in its article on the rankings that the methodology for determining these ranks comes from user feedback, discussions with schools and higher education experts, literature reviews, trends in its own data, availability of new data, and engaging with deans and institutional researchers at higher education conferences.

The UI improved in peer assessment, graduate retention rate, percentage of classes under 20, selectivity rank, and the percentage of first-year students who were in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Financial resources for the UI are a combination of tuition and state support. In fiscal 2020, the UI’s financial resource rank was No. 83. This year, the ranking dropped to No. 87. The UI’s faculty resources rank dropped 10 notches, from No. 69 to No. 79, as well.

UI President Bruce Harreld has often cited the U.S. News rankings when making requests to the state Board of Regents and Iowa lawmakers for more funding — which he has said would lead to more resources for students and better outcomes, such as higher graduation and retention rates.

Following a trend of disinvestment, in 2019, lawmakers approved a $12 million boost to the regents.

But facing pandemic-shorted funds, the state cut $8 million from the universities budgets in June. The UI’s general education fund was $746 million for fiscal 2020. 

Compared with its 10 other peer universities, Iowa ranks second from the bottom. Just the University of Arizona ranks lower, at 97 of all U.S. universities. 

In response,  within the state of Iowa, and no increase in state support, the UI was not able to allocate as much funds toward faculty and students resources compared to other universities.

The Pell Grant rate, a grant for students who demonstrate severe financial need, for the UI dropped from 64 percent to 60 percent. Social mobility rank dropped from 335 to 353, which is determined by the Pell Grant graduation rates and Pell Grant graduation performances.

Iowa State University, ranked at No. 55 for top public universities last year, increased to No. 44 and improved in the national universities category, jumping up to No. 118 from No. 121 the previous year. The University of Northern Iowa, not included in the national rankings, remains at No. 2 for Midwest public schools and dropped from No. 20 to No. 24 in the Midwest overall rankings.

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