Cal State Fullerton No. 1 in student-based university rankings

Among the categories included in the StuDocu survey of 20,000 were remote learning, safety and diversity
By: | September 22, 2020
Matt Gush/Getty Images

A few notable publications recently launched their annual versions of “best colleges” based on specific sets of criteria.

But what if the categories were changed and students were asked to judge their higher education institutions on how well they are successfully responding to their communities’ needs and tackling the most timely issues?

StuDocu, an online platform that provides free resources for students studying remotely, conducted a global survey and received 20,000 responses from undergrads across more than 170 institutions in the U.S. and Canada to come up with its own University Ranking tabulations.

The results look quite a bit different from the standard lists presented by those “other” publications, but perhaps can provide insightful recruiting data points for administrators to pore over.

The school with the No. 1 overall university ranking? Not MIT. Not Harvard. Not Princeton. It was the California State University at Fullerton, which ranked in the top 10 in several categories, including remote learning, financial aid assistance and diversity. Cal State Fullerton also scored in the Top 5 percent in Money magazine’s best colleges list.

Clemson University ranked No. 2 overall, with Duke, Southern New Hampshire University the Borough of Manhattan Community College tying for third overall in the polling, which also factored in their institutions’ responses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has made it especially difficult to be a student in the United States, and we wanted to give students the opportunity to share their experiences,” says Marnix Broer, CEO at StuDocu. “We encourage school administrators to take an intentional look at the data and results and make positive changes for students, whether they be on campus or working remotely this year.”

Also cracking the top 10 were a few traditional powers, such as the University of Michigan, UCLA, Vanderbilt and Illinois. There were two big surprises, with Utah Valley University and the University of the People (the first “non-profit, tuition-free online American accredited university”) also making the cut.

Inside the rankings

StuDocu asked respondents to rate their colleges on a 0-10 scale in 15 different areas, from quality of courses and academic reputation to quality of life, facilities, safety and location. It also required them to judge their institutions on other important areas that matter specifically to them, such as studying remotely, job opportunities, accessibility and even the dating scene.

Students who ranked their institutions highly “experience both the quality and efforts of their universities on a daily basis,” according to StuDocu.

More than 100,000 students across 15 countries took part in the survey, which Broer says offers universities a unique window into understanding student views and sparking potential discussion.

“We encourage universities to reach out to students to understand any underlying causes for their positions within our rankings, improve their scores and ultimately improve the experiences they are offering,” Broer said.

A look at eight of the areas that matter most to students showed which colleges and universities are excelling, according to the StuDocu students surveyed:

Diversity. Three college that soared up the national ranking charts were also in the top five of most diverse and inclusive institutions – Borough of Manhattan University College, Cal State Fullerton and Utah Valley University. Canada’s Thompson Rivers University and the University of South Florida also made the grade. Students who said their institutions were the least diverse included these: the University of Arkansas, Boston College, Notre Dame, Brigham Young and Auburn.

“Specifically, with the great social changes going on in today’s world, we hope schools pay close attention to issues related to diversity and inclusion,” Broer says.

Remote learning. The University of South Florida has had a record-breaking year in terms of enrollment, registering its highest summer and fall freshman numbers. It has also done a fantastic job in remote learning, starting in March and now into September, where nearly 50 percent of its students are getting some form of virtual instruction. In the StuDocu survey, it rated No. 1 in the category. Among those in the top 10 were the University of Arizona, Arizona State and Liberty University.

Safety: The lowest-rated school in the study was Portland State University in Oregon. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland and Temple University in Philadelphia were also in the bottom three. Clemson and Purdue were among those joining overall No. 1 Utah Valley in the top 10.

Financial aid. Universities that can provide an avenue for students to receive financial assistance often score high in other areas. In fact, three of the top six on in this category also did great in the overall national rankings: Cal State Fullerton, Borough of Manhattan Community College and Southern New Hampshire. The University of Texas at Dallas and Old Dominion also cracked the top 5.

Sports. Athletics can play a big part in bringing together students, alumni and community. A strong sports program can be a financial boon for universities and interest can help woo recruits beyond sports. At No. 1 is no surprise: Clemson. Another football power, Virginia Tech, comes in at No. 2. Those tied at No. 3 are a who’s who of some of the best programs in the country: Duke, Arizona, Penn State, Michigan State, Indiana, Arizona and Nebraska. Michigan, Florida and Texas A&M also made it into the top 10. But no Alabama or LSU?

Fraternities and sororities. Students who attend Cal State Fullerton say they are making a difference and connecting more than any higher ed institution’s system in the country, according to the survey. Other top systems include Clemson, the University of North Texas, Illinois and Vanderbilt. Those with subpar frats and sororities, according to the students polled, include Boston College and Saint Louis University.

Dietary accommodations. There are scores of universities that provide incredible dining offerings for students, but some of the more renowned ones, including Yale, didn’t make the top 10. The ones that scored big offer vegan, keto, vegeterian and other options. Duke rated the best overall in the survey, edging out Virginia Tech and Cal State Fullerton among student preferences. Among the worst listed were the University of Arkansas, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and DePaul University.

Housing. Is there a better campus to live than at Ohio State University? Students polled certainly think so, although rival Michigan might not agree. The Ann Arbor school came in behind OSU at No. 2. Other campuses “where students live like royalty” include Johns Hopkins, UCLA and Cal-Fullerton.


Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at cburt@lrp.com


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