Was Obama's shout-out to the California Institute of Technology in January the last push it needed to trample Harvard and Stanford for the No. 1 spot in (arguably) the world's most prestigious college rankings?

The Times of Higher Education, a British operation, gave the Pasadena underdog top honors this year, up from No. 2 in 2010. For the last few years, Harvard has grown comfortable in that throne.

And to add insult to Harvard's injuries, the Times actually made it share its second-place ranking this year…

… with Stanford, its bitter rival, who was all the way down at No. 4 on last year's list.

Good day for private universities in California! Especially in light of Steve Jobs' sudden passing, as all eyes have turned to the Golden State as a beacon of innovation. (Werner Herzog has said so all along.) This Steve Jobs speech at Stanford's 2005 commencement ceremony its re-viraling itself today:

But at all institutions where government funding is involved — namely, the once-thriving University of California system — things are looking much bleaker. UC Berkeley fell to No. 10 from No. 8, and UCLA fell from No. 11 to No. 13.

Tuition is shooting up at all the UC campuses, while in-classroom quality falls at the same rate. One of the most jolting quantifications of this shift was the departure of three beloved and top-tier professors/researchers from UC San Diego earlier this year. They left for better jobs at a private university.

And back on that (bank) note, California's privates are so stoked this morning.

“It's gratifying to be recognized for the work we do here and the impact it has–both on our students and on the global community,” Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau says in a statement. “Today's announcement reinforces Caltech's legacy of innovation, and our unwavering dedication to giving our extraordinary people the environment and resources with which to pursue their best ideas. It's also truly gratifying to see three California schools–including my alma mater, Stanford–in the top ten.”

Its new No. 1 position could indeed have everything to do with money. From CalTech's beaming press release:

According to Phil Baty, editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, “the differences at the top of the university rankings are miniscule, but Caltech just pips Harvard with marginally better scores for 'research–volume, income, and reputation,' research influence, and the income it attracts from industry. With differentials so slight, a simple factor plays a decisive role in determining rank order: money.”

“Harvard reported funding increases similar in proportion to other institutions, whereas Caltech reported a steep rise (16%) in research funding and an increase in total institutional income,” Baty says.


LA Weekly