HIGHER EDUCATION: The most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings are much less significant than many continue to believe.

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Although the University of Southern California (USC) has been barred from bowl games for the next few years, the Trojans seem to still be making competitive strides forward. For the first time since the list was published in 1983, U.S. News & World Report has ranked USC (23rd) higher than UCLA (25th).

The shift, while noteworthy, is not catastrophic and should in no way serve as a foreshadowing of doom for public universities in the state.

Eager high school students look for an easy measure to differentiate thousands of colleges and often turn to U.S. News for a simple fix. Many do not realize that other lists exist and reveal the subjectivity of rankings.

While U.S. News consistently devotes its top 20 slots to private universities, a combined 30 percent of its formula relies on faculty resources and financial resources. These two factors favor private universities with huge endowments and burden public universities that operate on state funding and lower tuition costs.

Other lists place public schools first after using another formula that emphasizes different factors. For example, the Washington Monthly compiles a list that focuses more on what students do after college, which includes how many receive Ph.D.s and how many enter the Peace Corps. Here, UCLA places third while USC is 39th. The Academic Ranking of World Universities, which examines how many alumni and faculty win Nobel Prizes, has UCLA ranked 13 and USC ranked 46.

The variability of these lists does not make one the ultimate authority on whether USC or UCLA is the better school. Each campus is different and cannot be encompassed by a few condensed features.

Each university must evaluate itself apart from numbers assigned by an external judge. Nobody will deny that the budget cuts in the past months have had an adverse effect on the quality of a UC education. In the end, such ongoing issues need addressing, no matter how they change any "world ranking" scores.

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