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Stan State, UC Merced climbing the ladder in national rankings
Stan State students
Stanislaus State landed in the top 10 in four categories as one of the best universities in the West according to rankings by U.S. News & World Report (Photo courtesy of Stan State).

Local high school juniors and seniors seeking higher education opportunities need look no further than the Central Valley as two local universities received top national rankings.

Both Stanislaus State and UC Merced earned recognition in in U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Colleges in the nation released on Monday.

Among U.S. public institutions UC Merced placed in the top 30, leaping to No. 28 in the country.

The placement represents UC Merced’s highest-ever ranking in the annual report, and the improvement over last year is the biggest jump in the school’s existence. Overall, UC Merced had the biggest gain of all schools in the Top 100, rising 37 spots.

“Student success is our North Star, and it is rewarding that national organizations increasingly recognize this commitment,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “What has been built here, in the heart of California, is a testament to the faculty and staff, both past and present, who have worked tirelessly in their shared pursuit of student success.”

U.S. News – which has issued its Best Colleges list annually since 1983 — updated its methodology this year to put the focus on student outcomes. Weight has been added to measurements such as social mobility, graduation rates, manageable debt and post-graduate success.

A perennial top university for social mobility – which measures how well colleges graduate students who receive Pell Grants – the UC Merced moved up to No. 4 in this category nationwide.

UC Merced's first-generation student enrollment was also key to the university’s rise in the ranking. Among the new criteria factored into the ranking was first-generation graduation rates and how they compared to graduation rates of non-first-generation students. According to US News, the closer those two numbers approached each other, “the better the school has demonstrated its ability to attend to its students' needs.”

“I always say: We don’t do what we do to pursue rankings,” said Muñoz. “We pursue our mission of advancing students’ social and economic mobility, and the nation notices.

Despite Stanislaus State’s struggle to return to a pre-pandemic level of enrollment, the Turlock university landed in the top 10 in four categories as one of the best universities in the West according to rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

Stan State advanced its standing from last year in all four categories for universities in the West:  

·         No. 3, Social Mobility (No. 4 last year) 

·         No. 4, Top Public Schools (No. 9 last year) 

·         No. 6, Best Colleges for Veterans (No. 12 last year) 

·         No. 10, Regional Universities (No. 25 last year) 

“Once again Stanislaus State has been recognized as one of the top Universities in the West, supporting student success,” said Interim President Susan E. Borrego. “We are pleased with the University’s remarkable achievement of earning four top 10 rankings in the West from U.S. News & World Report. This distinction not only underscores our commitment to academic excellence and student success but also highlights the pivotal role we play as a regional comprehensive University in sculpting the educational landscape. Stan State is proud to contribute to a legacy of transformation and the promise of a brighter tomorrow for our students, their families and communities.”

Along with the Best in the West rankings, Stanislaus State was included in U.S. News’ national rankings of undergraduate nursing programs for the third consecutive year. Stan State was included among the top 400 in the nation. 

“We hear noise related to the value of a college degree right now. Nearly every week, there’s a news story that alleges that college is no longer necessary or that it’s not worth the value. The degree isn’t worth what you spent. [But] we know that the data shows otherwise… Though there are more opportunities or openings, college degrees still situate students to make contributions in their communities. in ways that students without a college degree might not get the opportunity,” Borrego said, during her Fall Welcome Address in August.

Stan State and UC Merced’s inclusion in U.S. News & World Report’s newest rankings marks the universities’ most recent recognitions. Other recent achievements include:

·         Stan State landed the No. 2 position on Washington Monthly’s “Best Bang for the Buck” in the West ranking and No. 9 on its national Master’s University Rankings list.

·         Stan State earned a spot on The Princeton Review’s list of “Best 389 Colleges” for 2024, marking the university’s 18th consecutive year on the Review’s national list of best colleges.  The Princeton Review listed UC Merced as one of its Best Colleges in the US and one of the Best in the West, as well as No. 12 on the Green Colleges list.

·         Stan State also made Forbes’ annual “America’s Top Colleges” list, landing the No. 58 spot in the West and No. 103 on its public colleges ranking.  

·         Wall Street Journal rated UC Merced No.15 in the nation for public universities, No. 3 in California.

·         Third Way’s Economic Mobility Index, which measures the economic success a school creates for its graduates, placed UC Merced at No. 7 in the nation.

·         Money Magazine, which made the switch to a rating system this year as opposed to rankings, scored UC Merced 4.5 stars out of a possible 5.

·         Finance website named Stan State among the “Best Colleges in America,” placing the University among the top third of the 736 four-year public and private colleges from across the nation that made the cut.