Harvard Number One University in Eyes of Public

by Frank Newport

Stanford and Yale in second place

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- What's the best college or university in the nation? To some degree, it depends on whom you ask.

The eagerly anticipated, yet controversial, rankings of colleges and universities by U.S. News and World Report were released over the weekend. These rankings are based on a complex system that gives points to each college, based on such factors as assessment by presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions at peer institutions, the proportion of freshmen who return to the campus and eventually graduate, faculty resources, SAT/ACT scores of enrolled students, spending per student on instruction, and the alumni giving rate. The reputational component of the system -- which comprises 25% of the final score for a given college -- is based, as noted, on ratings by college professionals, not the general public.

The U.S. News and World Report rankings are split into several different categories, but the one to which the news media pay most attention is the category "National Universities –Doctoral," which includes most larger universities.

The final results in this category in this year's U.S. News rankings were as follows: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Duke, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Washington University in St. Louis.

The Public's View

Gallup deals in the public's opinion, and following in this tradition, from time to time Gallup measures what colleges the general public considers to be the best in the nation. This year, respondents to a July Gallup Poll were given the opportunity to name two schools in answer to this question: "All in all, what would you say is the best college or university in the United States?" Respondents were asked to name two.

There is one clear winner in the court of public opinion, Harvard, which is mentioned by one out of four Americans as their first or second response to this question, more than twice as many "mentions" as are given to any other college.

Based on the combined first and second mentions of the public, 35 schools are mentioned by at least 1% of Americans as the best in the nation, including all eight of the Ivy League schools (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale), and 18 state universities.

About a fourth of the respondents mentioned a college or university other than those named below, which means that there are a wide variety of colleges that are perceived to be the best by only a very small percentage of the population. Additionally, as can be seen, about one out of five Americans did not name any college or university.

 

All in all, what would you say is the best college or university in the United States? (open-ended responses)

Best/
Second Best

%

Harvard University

24

Stanford University

11

Yale University

11

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

6

University of California at Berkeley

4

Notre Dame University

4

Princeton University

4

University of Michigan

3

Duke University

3

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

3

University of Texas

2

Texas A&M University

2

Ohio State University

2

University of North Carolina

2

Penn State University

2

University of Pennsylvania (Penn)

2

University of Minnesota

1

Brown University

1

Cornell University

1

University of Virginia

1

Brigham Young University (BYU)

1

University of Tennessee

1

Michigan State University

1

Purdue University

1

University of Iowa

1

Georgetown University

1

University of Arizona

1

University of Southern California (USC)

1

Louisiana State University (LSU)

1

Indiana University

1

University of Washington

1

Columbia University

1

University of Wisconsin

1

Boston University

1

New York University

1

None

*

Other

36

No opinion

22



To a significant degree, the schools that are at the top of the list of schools named by Americans also appear at the top of the list as compiled by U.S. News.

There are several interesting differences:

  • Princeton, tied for first place in the U.S. News rankings (and in sole possession of its top ranking last year), is not at the top of the list in terms of public perceptions. Princeton is mentioned by 4% of the general public as the top school in the nation, tying it with U Cal Berkeley and Notre Dame in the Gallup reputational rankings.
  • The very highly rated California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, and Washington University in St. Louis, all in the top 10 in the U.S. News ratings, are mentioned by less than 1% of the general population.
  • Larger state universities such as Cal Berkeley, Michigan, Texas, Texas A & M, Ohio State, North Carolina, UCLA, and Penn State all are mentioned by 2% or more of the general population, even though none appear in the top 10 in the U.S. News rankings.

There are significant regional differences in ratings of the colleges or universities, as one might expect:

All in all, what would you say is the best college or university in the United States? (open-ended responses)

%

East

Harvard

36

Yale

16

Princeton

7

Stanford

5

MIT

5

Penn State

5

Penn

5

Midwest

Harvard

21

Yale

11

Stanford

10

Michigan

9

Notre Dame

8

South

Harvard

18

Yale

10

Stanford

9

Duke

7

Texas A & M

7

West

Harvard

24

Stanford

19

Berkeley

11

Yale

9

MIT

7

UCLA

7

Clearly, the prestige of Harvard (and to a lesser degree Yale and Stanford) is fairly universal across regions of the country. But there are distinctions in the top five within each region: Princeton, MIT, Penn State and Penn do best in the East, Duke and Texas A & M in the South, Michigan and Notre Dame in the Midwest, and Berkeley and UCLA in the West.

What about post-graduates themselves, who might be expected to know better than others what schools are prestigious, given that they applied to schools at least twice (for undergraduate and graduate work) and most likely spent a good deal of time evaluating schools? Here's the list of schools most often mentioned by college graduates with at least some post-graduate education:

Harvard

29%

Stanford

27

Yale

14

MIT

11

Berkeley

7

Princeton

7

Michigan

7

The biggest difference here is the relatively higher rating for Stanford, which almost ties Harvard among this group.

Survey Methods

The most recent results are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18+, conducted July 18-20, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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