General information on ranking

Name of the ranking (in English) Top American Research Universities
Name of the ranking (in original) Top American Research Universities
Scope of the ranking general ranking
Name of person in charge of ranking Craig Abbey
Website of the ranking
First year of publication 2000
Most recent year of publication 2020
Date of last update 2023-04-22
Publication frequency annual
Ranking organization The Center for Measuring University Performance
Methodology website

The MUP Center’s annual report, the Top American Research Universities, offers analysis and data useful for understanding American research university performance. A key feature of this report is The MUP Center’s classification of universities into groups based upon the nine quality indicators. Institutions that have more than $40 million in annual federal research expenditures and that rank within the top 25 on at least one of the nine measures fall into our definition of a top research university. The Ranking uses the following nine indicators:

  • Federal Research Expenditures
  • Endowment Assets
  • Annual Giving
  • Faculty Quality (including 2 indicators: members of the National Academies among an institution’s faculty + the number of significant faculty awards earned)
  • Doctorates
  • Postdoctoral Appointees
  • Undergraduate Quality (SAT scores)
  • Total Research Expenditures 

Most national research universities measure themselves on a wide range of dimensions that the institutions believe important for determining improvement and success. At the same time, no single indicator or composite number accurately represents what an individual institution has done, can do, or will do. To improve the quality and productivity of a major national research university, its faculty, students, staff, and supporters need to follow a number of indicators that, taken together, give a reasonable approximation of accomplishment and strength relative to the best universities in the country. Many indicators serve this purpose, but most observers know that research matters more than anything else in defining the nation’s best institutions.

In its annual reports, The MUP Center provides both the total research and development expenditures and the highly-competitive federally sponsored research and development expenditures as indicators of research scale. The ranking uses federal research expenditures to define the competitive universe of research universities by setting a marker at $40M per year. While the dollars give a good approximation of research activity, it is the faculty who provide the critical resource for university success, and The MUP Center reports the number of members of the National Academies among an institution’s faculty along with the number of significant faculty awards earned as indicators of faculty distinction. Students provide a double indicator by reflecting both the externally perceived quality of the institution and providing with their own credentials an important contribution to that quality. The MUP Center provides the number of doctorates awarded and the number of postdoctoral appointments supported; and The MUP Center offers median SAT scores as indicators of student competitiveness.

Both private and public universities live on the resources generated from many sources, but critical to their success are the size of their endowments and annual giving. Endowment reflects the long-term strength of accumulated private support and in some cases institutional savings that delivers an income to important purposes every year. Annual giving provides an indicator of the current level of an institution’s private contributions both to current expenses and towards increased endowment. By including both indicators, The MUP Center gains the opportunity to note historical and emerging strength in private support for research universities.

Additional information

  • Main target groups: higher education institutions, policy makers, governments and funding agencies
  • Level of comparison: institutional: 164
  • Major dimensions covered: research
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