Rankings should be wake-up call for higher education in New Jersey

Well, for the seventh year in a row, the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings have Princeton University in the No. 1 spot for best national universities.

Great news for New Jersey, right?

Eh, not necessarily.

While Princeton has made great strides in making more connections with the New Jersey business community, the size of its enrollment (as well as its global mission) limits the number of New Jersey high school students at the school (though it has more students from New Jersey than any other state).

The larger truth about the 2018 Best College rankings, which were released Tuesday, is that once again New Jersey has made a less-than-stellar showing. That’s not good news in a state that is struggling to be competitive, to build and maintain a talented work force, and to keep its own college-age students from fleeing their state.

U.S. News reviewed 311 schools for the Best National Universities list. Only three N.J. schools were in the Top 100: Princeton, Rutgers-New Brunswick at No. 69 and Stevens Institute of Technology at No. 70. Only eight New Jersey schools made the list at all. (The others are Seton Hall at No. 124, Rutgers-Newark at No. 133, New Jersey Institute of Technology at No. 140, Rowan at No. 171 and Montclair State at No. 187.)

By comparison, New York had five schools ranked in the first 42 spots; Pennsylvania had five schools ranked in the Top 52. Massachusetts, the only state with high schools at the same level as New Jersey, had eight schools in the Top 40 spots.

All told, New York (with eight), Pennsylvania (six) and Massachusetts (seven) combine to have 21 schools ranked before New Jersey gets its second.

There are some positives.

Rowan certainly deserves praise for making the list for the first time. And New Jersey had a number of schools rated well on the list of the best regional universities in the North, led by The College of New Jersey at No. 4.

But New Jersey needs to do better.

The outmigration of college-age New Jersey residents is a huge loss for the state’s business community — and, unfortunately, this is one ranking where New Jersey is No. 1 in the nation. No state loses more of its students.

U.S. News & World Report said its rankings focus on academic excellence, “with schools evaluated on hundreds of data points and up to 15 measures of academic quality.” Graduation rates and freshman retention rates carry the most weight, with the top schools having “significantly higher graduation and freshman retention rates than other schools,” the magazine explained.

New Jersey’s mediocre showing in these annual rankings is not solely responsible for the state’s brain drain. Certainly, there are good schools in the state producing talented graduates. But a vibrant, diverse state such as New Jersey must do better. Or it won’t be vibrant for long.