Perhaps a playoff is in order. For the second straight year, Harvard and Princeton share the top spot in the controversial U.S. News & World Report rankings of "America's Best Colleges."
Princeton earned at least a tie for the No. 1 ranking for the fifth consecutive year of the rankings, which saw few changes among the highest-rated schools. The latest survey, which hits newsstands Monday, again has Yale at No. 3, followed by the University of Pennsylvania.
The University of California-Berkeley, at No. 21, was the top-rated public university. It was followed at 22 by the Universities of Virginia and Michigan-Ann Arbor in a year that saw public universities generally hold their own despite state budget cuts across higher education.
Williams College was the top-ranked top liberal arts college. Cal Tech was considered the best value among national universities based on ranking and price, including financial aid.
The rankings are generated by a formula that includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni who donate money to their alma mater.
The rankings are both reviled and breathlessly awaited by college administrators, who insist no formula can capture the value of a college experience but have been forced to acknowledge the enormous role rankings play in the minds of many applicants and parents.
Even the magazine, however, urges students to use the rankings as just one source of information.
"Dig into the data, read the numbers, then use that as a launching point to learn about the nature of the school, the personality," said Executive Editor Brian Kelly. "We say this is a great starting point, but we don't pretend it's anything more than that."
Princeton issued a statement saying administrators there "were pleased to be recognized as one of many outstanding universities" but that formulaic rankings "cannot capture the distinctiveness of any institution or whether one or another university might be an appropriate match for any individual student."
Harvard did not respond to requests for comment.