Harvard pulled ahead of Ivy League rival Princeton in the latest edition of the influential U.S. News & World Report university rankings, while a stronger emphasis on graduation rates—a reflection of the new national scrutiny that issue has received in recent months—drove other changes in the Top 10, reports the Associated Press. The most closely watched of a growing number of college rankings, the U.S. News & World Report list is both credited for helping students and families sort through a dizzying college selection process and criticized by those who say it’s too arbitrary and pressures colleges to boost scores at the expense of improving teaching. The rankings take into account factors such as SAT scores, selectivity, graduation and retention rates, alumni giving, and peer reputation. This year, high-school guidance counselors’ opinions were added to the mix. Graduation rate performance also was given greater weight, accounting for 7.5 percent of the final score for colleges and universities, up from 5 percent last year. The shift helped Columbia University rise from eighth to fourth this year and contributed to Cal Tech and MIT falling from a tie for fourth to a tie for seventh. Nationally, graduation rates are getting more policy attention as one of the Obama administration’s signature education goals is for the U.S. to regain the world lead in college graduation rates by 2020. More schools were ranked this year, a reflection of both increased consumer demand and improved data collection; the survey now displays the rank of the top 75 percent of schools in each category, up from 50 percent. The schools in the bottom tier are displayed alphabetically and not given numeric rankings…

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Maya Prabhu