2020 U.S. News College Rankings: What Can They Tell Us About Adventist Colleges and Universities?

U.S. News just released its 2020 Best Colleges rankings on September 8. Published annually since 1985, they are the most widely read of any national rankings of colleges and universities. While they are often criticized for the predictability of the rankings of elite schools like Yale or Carleton, based on wealth and status rather than student learning, what — if anything — might they tell us about the eight Adventist undergraduate institutions in the United States?

The Takeaway

Adventist colleges and universities in the United States are doing well, considering their non-elite status, lack of large endowments, and faith-based missions to help anyone who qualifies to attend and succeed. While the rankings change from year to year, in 2020 congratulations go to Pacific Union College (PUC) and Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU).

Overall Rankings

PUC is the only Adventist school in the “Top Ten” category, though SWAU is a close second at 11. All Adventist schools are in the top 40% or better (excluding Andrews University (AU), as I explain shortly).

This indicator covers a fairly long list of items (see table below) and is certainly the one most comprehensive score. However, its relative meaning depends in part on the category where a school finds itself. For example, AU has been placed in the National Universities category, with 399 schools. This gives it the unhelpful ranking of 293-381 — essentially meaningless. On the other hand, Walla Walla University (WWU), La Sierra University (LSU), and Southern Adventist University (SAU) are in the Regional Universities classification, in groups of about 130. This makes their rankings of 49 (WWU), 50 (SAU), and 53 (LSU), more meaningful: they are all three in the top 40% of comparable small universities. Similarly, Oakwood University (OU), SWAU, Union College (UC), and PUC are considered Regional Colleges. These groups vary more widely. OU is 46 in a group of 136 (top 34%), UC is 32 in a group of 88 (top 36%), and UC and PUC are in a group of 103, scoring 11 and 10 respectively.

Every year there are other, secondary categories. This year there were six; however, no Adventist school was able to make the “Most Innovative” or the “Undergraduate Teaching” lists. But there were Adventist schools in each of the other four categories, as follows:

Best for Veterans

Only two Adventist schools manage to show in this category: PUC ranks 7/103, while SAU ranks 31/136.

Best Value

Four schools are ranked here: PUC is 4/103, LSU is 23/128, UC is 24/88, and SAU is 36/136.

Social Mobility

All the Adventist schools but one — WWU — rank in this area. This is good news. The mission of Adventist higher education should include improving the lot of the less fortunate, and the fact that so many lower income students are doing well in Adventist colleges and universities is heartening. The big winner here is SWAU, which ranked #3 in its class of 103, the highest single ranking in any area for Adventist schools.


Adventists can be proud of the quality of the Adventist Colleges and Universities in the United States; we all should urge potential students to consider an Adventist education.

Table of 202 U.S. News Rankings of Adventist Schools

Overall Ranking: Quality is determined by a complex mix of factors such as graduation and retention rates, faculty degrees, class size, student SAT/ACT scores, spending per student on academic resources, alumni giving, and so on. For much more detail, click here to go to the U.S. News website.

Best for Veterans: The institution is certified for the GI Bill, the institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and for the third consecutive year the institution must have enrolled a minimum of 20 veterans and active service members, or a critical mass, in the 2018-2019 academic year. Includes only schools in the top half of their category.

Social Mobility: The score is based on the graduation and retention rates of Pell-grant eligible students (from households with incomes below $50,000). Schools get credit for having large numbers of Pell eligible students, and for having high success rates for those students, relative to non-Pell recipients.

Best Value: All schools in the top half of their 2020 Best Colleges ranking categories were numerically ranked based on their weighted score of three variables: the ratio of quality to price accounted for 60% of the overall score, the percentage of all undergraduates receiving need-based grants accounted for 25%, and the average discount accounted for 15%.

Nancy Hoyt Lecourt is Professor of English and Academic Dean Emerita at Pacific Union College. She is retired and living in Angwin, California.

Image credit: U.S. News Best Colleges website

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9897

What it demonstrates is that in hindsight the Mormon model would have been better. Many more SDA colleges will inevitably close. How much better off we would be if they were all combined into one campus that ranks where it really counts.

I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in the US News rankings. A few years ago I was a member of the site visit team for an institution that was on probation. They succeeded in getting that status lifted and were listed as one institution on the “best of the West” list the following year. The improbability of that meteoric recovery and ascent is astonishing. As long as SDA institutions are preparing students for graduate and professional schools, they are doing their job and that standard is all that means much. In the broader world of higher education it’s what graduates can do that counts. Whether one’s institution is “major league, minor league, bush league or the wasteland” doesn’t really matter. As some one has said “Harvard don’t mean nothin’ if you ain’t got talent.”

As for the Mormon model and its applicatiion to consolidating SDA higher education, there is limited comparison. In national surveys slightly more than 5 per cent of students travel more than 500 miles to attend an institution of higher education. Mormons have had one flagship institution (and a couple more now) through much of their history. SDA’s are tied to the regional model as witnessed by the proliferation of duplicate programs across institutions. Nothing short of extreme exingency will change that–and perhaps not even that will lead to change.


It seems that one of the best determining is “Is a student when completing
their course of study able to be successful in what they wanted to do?” If
any professional licensing exams, are they able to complete with high scores?
This would be the same for any educational program –
Elementary school
Middle school
Jr. High
High school

If one lives in a Christian home then the best solution is to commute to a local Public or private college or university. Graduate school is soon enough to venture out.

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No suggestion was intended that we should be looking belatedly at one consolidated campus but rather, given the size of our church and how easy and cheap transport is today, it would be better to have the benefits of scale and standing of a Brigham Young. I am sure there are plenty of graduates of BYU who get job interviews and other opportunities not afforded to graduates of a college or university no one has even heard of.

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Perhaps more ON LINE LEARNING offerings might be helpful to
cut the cost of Tuition Fees at our SDA Colleges/Universities.
there are probably many SDA families whose INCOMES are over
$50,000 and so not eligible for any grants or government loans,
and have to purchase loans from other lending places.

One thing is noticeable.
Students speak highly of the SDA schools they attend.
Southern has had a lot of students from other Unions.
I completed requirements for a BS/Nursing in '83 there.
I heard a lot of great things about SouthWestern from persons
who attended.
My daughter went to both Southern and then to WallaWalla for
her masters. Enjoyed both.
A number of her friends went to Loma Linda for specialties.
From what I see on Internet on Sabbaths, LaSierra is very good.
So, in a way all these ranking mean nothing. Depending mostly on
the instruction offered and word of mouth advertising.

There is something Local Churches fail to do for students who do
not attend Academy, but local secular high schools. And those who
attend local secular colleges.
Offer the Academy Bible Classes [Fr, So, Jr, Sr] with Academy textbooks
on Sabbath or maybe Sunday.
Offer College level Religion classes with textbooks on Sabbath or maybe
For students NOT attending Academy or College, Religious Education
as taught in the Local church is very Primitive and not challenging to
their developing thought processes of their age group.

This must be something new. Nearly no one I went to school with would do that.

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Tim –
Is there some reason they chose to “stick it out” and not
change schools to at better one?

Some did. Many of my friends from MBA ended up finishing at non-SDA colleges and universities after starting at La Sierra or PUC.

Also, at the time I don’t think we really knew how bad it was. Most of us came to this opinion with time and the advantage hindsight.

PUC, for example, is more or less run like a high school. Students are treated like children much as high school students are. Granted they are young, but they’re technically adults and should be treated as such.

My daughter graduated from Walla Walla University with a degree in engineering. I have never regretted that she attended PUC or WWU. I think both are top notch higher education institutions. It was expensive, but worth it. I saved, scrimped, invested and paid for it all. IMO too many public colleges are hotbeds of leftwing political activism. I totally left the choice up to my daughter, with one exception; I wouldn’t pay a dime if she chose UC Berkeley.

My other daughter attended Weimar Institute. That was a disaster. At the time I gave Weimar high marks here on spectrum, but boy did I change my mind. It was an indoctrination center for “Last Generation Theology”.

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When did you go to MBA? I attended my freshman year in '66-'67. I hated it. I thought I was in prison. the dean must have been a protégé of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.

I attended 83 - 85, in its heyday. I think 85 was the largest class ever. Now it’s just a (literally) rotting shell of what it once was. Hard to believe it’d even open.

I had a reasonably good experience despite every effort by the administration to indoctrinate me.

I imagined that college would be so different and better. That I could finally be free of petty rules and such. What a huge disappointment PUC was. It was basically boarding high school for older children.

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My son visited MBA at a friends behest when he went to Socal campmeeting. His mother and I were separated, and I was having a hard time with him. So I let him go to MBA in 2002 when he was a junior. I had no love lost for the place, and I don’t think shipping kids off to boarding academies is the way to go, especially when you are an unsecure freshman like I was when I went. I begrudgingly caved in because I couldn’t see any other alternative, and at the time I sorta saw it as an answer to prayer. His mother was quite insistent I let him go.

Egads, the cost!!! It was $1600 when I went in 66-67. The minimum wage was $1.30 but you could make considerable more at Harris Pine mill. Some kids paid their entire tuition working at Harris Pine. By 2002 tuition was $12,000. Harris Pine was gone even before you went there. Now it is $22,000!!! The minimum wage would have to be nearly $18.00 just to match tuition increases.

In 2002 the dorm looked like a run down ghetto. It was basically the same as when I went there, only 36 years of added wear and tear. The cafeteria had been remodeled and looked nice. My guess is with declining enrollment the school has not had the money for capital improvements. Enrollment was less than half of what it was 35 years earlier.

Dean Willy was a whole lot better than old Pirate Wheeler , who must have had a job at one time working for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The Byrd’s were the only faculty members there in 2002 who were there when I went. I never took a class from either.

In the end, my son flunked out in the first semester of his second year there. I can’t blame the school one bit. It was entirely his fault. As a senior his classes were in the morning that year, and he was too lazy to get out of bed and go. I landed him a posh job in the dorm and he got fired for being AWOL when on duty. There were other issues too. When I was there the dorm was sealed like a penetentary and we were treated like inmates. When my son was there the dorm security leaked like a sieve.

His very mother who insisted I let him go there, snuck down and brought him home. He never did graduate from high school.

I did the best I could. I finally got peace of mind when my wife divorced me 4 years ago and a year later I left the SDA church. The very church I was so devoted to, donated tons of money to for over 30 years, treated me badly when my wife and I divorced and I came out of the closet and revealed that I was gay. I was, and am the same person I was before they knew. The church just had some added information. I guess it doesn’t pay to be honest. I reckon it’s okay to break the 9th commandment, but you are hell bound if you do not keep the 4th one. :frowning:


There is a boarding academy in the state in which I live. Last year they had 54 students. About 25% were from outside the USA. I don’t see how this school can continue. I don’t know what the enrollment is this year, but I doubt it’s all that much different. It has been in steady decline for 20+ yrs. I wish I knew what was being discussed behind closed doors about the future of this school, although I’m sure we can all figure that out. It’s like pulling teeth to close an SDA school, regardless of the numbers and financials.

This is very true!


I call that the “college experience”.

Why not Berkley? It’s a very highly rated school, #22 in among National Universities, tied with USC, and cheap at just $14,100 a year.

PUC costs $31,000 a year and is ranked #10 in the Regional Colleges West, somewhat after the Oral Roberts University (of all places) and just before Southwestern Adventist University at #11.

I’d pick Berkeley & get a better education and pay 1/2 as much.

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