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Originally published September 11, 2012 at 9:01 PM | Page modified September 12, 2012 at 2:50 PM

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UW drops a bit in magazine's college rankings

The University of Washington has declined slightly in a national news magazine's ranking of academic quality, but researchers say the drop was not significant.

Seattle Times higher-education reporter

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Find the full U.S. News rankings: www.usnews.com/colleges

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ehs68, this ranking has absolutely nothing to do with the UW football team. MORE
SeattleDuck: The article is about academics not athletics. But I agree, UW football... MORE
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The University of Washington's national ranking slipped a few places in U.S. News & World Report's assessment of academic quality at the nation's colleges, but a researcher for the magazine said the dip was not significant.

In the magazine's Best Colleges 2013 rankings, the UW fell to 46th, from 42nd last year and 41st the year before.

"These are very small changes, not big changes," said Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News. "It still keeps them in pretty good company."

Washington State University was ranked 125th in the nation, falling from 115th place in 2012 and 111th in 2011.

The magazine's college rankings are the most widely read in the country, although what they say about a university's quality is always hotly debated among college administrators and the public alike.

Morse said many public universities, such as the UW and WSU, have had to absorb sharp budget cuts during the economic downturn, which has hurt the rankings of some schools. But most, including in Washington, have been able to compensate by raising tuition and accepting more out-of-state and international students.

Among national liberal arts colleges, Whitman College in Walla Walla was ranked 43rd, and University of Puget Sound in Tacoma was ranked 83rd.

The remainder of Washington's public and private colleges and universities were ranked among their peers in Western states, rather than on a national scale. Of those schools, two private universities in Spokane made the top 10: Gonzaga University was fourth, one place below its standing last year; and Whitworth University was ninth, the same place it has held for three years.

Western Washington University made the top-10 list of public regional universities, coming in at third in the West. The Evergreen State College ranked fifth.

Overall, WWU's regional ranking — when compared with both public and private schools — was 27th, and The Evergreen State College ranked 31st.

In a breakout section on the best undergraduate engineering schools, the UW ranked 23rd among schools that awarded doctorates, and WSU ranked 64th. For schools that awarded bachelor's or master's degrees, the best undergraduate engineering schools included Gonzaga at 17th and Seattle University at 44th.

Last month, another magazine, the nonprofit Washington Monthly, ranked the UW eighth in the nation. Its analysis was based on the degree to which a school improves social mobility, produces research and promotes social service.

Editors at Washington Monthly criticized the rankings by U.S. News, writing that U.S. News "actually rewards colleges for spending more money, raising prices and shutting out all but the most privileged students."

Morse said his magazine is simply taking a realistic view of the importance of money when it comes to a school's academic quality. "I hardly ever hear a college president or dean saying, 'Resources don't matter, and we could produce the same for 20 percent less,' " he said. "These cuts over time mean measurable differences."

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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