What Is the Tier System in College?


In 1983, the magazine "U.S. News and World Report" began publishing the annual report, "America's Best Colleges." Despite criticism from leaders such as former Stanford University president Gerhard Casper, "America's Best Colleges" remains the most influential ranking of American colleges and universities. The "U.S. News" rankings utilize various measures of quality, such as peer assessment scores and student selectivity. The undergraduate rankings are divided on the basis of mission and location into four categories, each of which is divided into two tiers. Tier 1 schools represent the top 75 percent of institutions in a category and are numerically ranked, while Tier 2 represent the bottom 25 percent and are alphabetically listed.

National Universities

  • Institutions listed in the "America's Best Colleges" National Universities category offer a wide array of undergraduate majors, master's degrees and doctoral degrees. Additionally, these school are well-known for their focus on academic research and obtain high levels of grant funding. The National Universities include such well-known schools as the Ivy League institutions; top private schools such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and state institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Virginia.

National Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Schools included in the National Liberal Arts Colleges provide a greater focus on undergraduate education and award at least half their degrees in fields considered to be liberal arts, such as English and classics. This category includes institutions such as Williams College, Davidson College and Morehouse College.

Regional Universities

  • According to "U.S. News and World Report," schools listed as Regional Universities provide "a full range of undergraduate programs and some master's programs but few doctoral programs." The "America's Best Colleges" listing divides Regional Universities into four regions: North, South, Midwest and West. Regional Universities include institutions like Villanova University, Creighton University and James Madison University.

Regional Colleges

  • Institutions listed as Regional Colleges emphasize undergraduate education. However, unlike schools included in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category, these schools award less than half their degrees in liberal arts majors. As with Regional Universities, "America's Best Colleges" divides Regional Colleges into North, South, Midwest and West regions. Regional Colleges include schools such as the U.S. Air Force Academy, Cooper Union and Ohio Northern University.


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