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The Top Public Schools in the WSJ/THE College Rankings


The Top Public Schools in the WSJ/THE College Rankings

UCLA ranks No. 124 in resources but is in the top 16 for outcomes, engagement and environment.


Jenna Schoenefeld for The Wall Street Journal

More than two dozen public schools placed in this year’s top 100 of the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings, with 10 public schools making the top 50. These schools ranked highly in providing desired outcomes for graduates, despite lacking the resources of many private schools.

The University of California, Los Angeles tops the chart for public schools and ranks No. 25 overall. In the rankings, UCLA placed highly in the environment and engagement categories, fifth and 11th, respectively, among all schools public and private. Environment measures diversity on campus, while engagement rates how involved students said they felt both inside and outside the classroom.

UCLA ranks No. 124 in resources, a measure of funding and endowment, among both public and private schools. But it ranks 16th in outcomes, which measures recent graduates’ salaries and debt levels, as well as graduation rates and a school’s academic reputation. Public schools often struggle to match the financial resources of private schools as they depend on dwindling state support.

You can sort the complete rankings by a variety of measures and reweight the main contributing factors to reflect what’s most important to you.

More than a decade after the start of the 2007-09 recession, state funding for higher education per student, adjusted for inflation, has only halfway recovered from its prerecession levels, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. The student share of the cost has increased significantly over that 10-year period.

Only five public schools are in the top 100 schools ranked by resources. With less money for such public universities to spend on academics, students at those schools can face large classes with little individual attention.

The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is No. 2 in the public rankings and 27th overall, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ranks third among public schools and 33rd overall. Three other schools in the University of California system take the next-highest spots among public schools and are closely ranked in the overall ratings; Berkeley at fourth (No. 34), Davis at fifth (No. 36) and San Diego at sixth (No. 37).

UCLA ranks No. 124 in resources but is in the top 16 for outcomes, engagement and environment.


Jenna Schoenefeld for The Wall Street Journal

University of California President

Janet Napolitano

says the high rankings of UC system schools demonstrate their success in maximizing resources. “As a public institution, we are especially proud of our ability to deliver a world-class education year after year,” she says.

The Top Public Schools

The public schools that achieved the highest overall ranking

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Davis

University of California, San Diego

University of Washington-Seattle

Purdue University West Lafayette

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Virginia

Despite the gap in resources, highly rated public schools rank high in outcomes for graduates as well. The University of Washington-Seattle, which is seventh among public schools and 42nd overall, owes its high ranking in part to a six-year graduation rate of 84% and to 60% of its undergraduates graduating with no known debt. The school is 31st in outcomes and 183rd in resources among both public and private schools.

“We provide students, especially those who are the first in their families to attend college, the support they need to graduate, so they can pursue their passions and contribute to society at the very highest level,” says University of Washington President

Ana Mari Cauce.

Ms. Smith is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She can be reached at

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