Newswise — Prospective students and their families have long relied on college rankings to help guide their admissions decisions, but a national conversation about some factors used to calculate their rankings has many people asking: Which ones really matter?

Critics claim that rankings like those from U.S. News & World Report, for example, favor schools that have substantial endowments and enroll students from more affluent families over schools that demonstrate a strong commitment to enrolling low-income and first-generation college students. Some have even suggested these rankings promote economic inequality on campuses.

Over the past year, several law and medical schools opted not to participate in future U.S. News rankings, and the media company has since announced it will change how its rankings of law schools are calculated, which will be reflected in its 2023-24 rankings.

In light of this ​sentiment, we would like to highlight some of the national college rankings that place a high value on return on investment and upward mobility, as well as some lesser-known ones that demonstrate the wide-ranging benefits of a CSU education. 


Moving On Up

CSU campuses consistently rank high each year in CollegeNET's Social Mobility Index (SMI), which measures to what extent higher education institutions are helping solve the declining levels of economic mobility in the U.S. In 2022, CSU San Marcos was ranked number one in the index ​with Cal State Long Beach, Cal State LA and CSU Bakersfield also ranking in the top ten.

Earning a university degree is always a game-changer, especially for CSU graduates. As one of the nation's most powerful engines of social mobility, the CSU has a lifetime impact on graduates, significantly boosting earnings capacity and changing the trajectory of families for generations.

CSULB alumnus Eduardo Cisneros ('06), intergovernmental affairs director for COVID-19 at The White House, says the university “not only gave me the foundation and the academic tools to prepare me for my career, but as a first-generation immigrant and first-generation college student, I credit them for even putting me on a career path in the first place."


Money Matters

All 23 CSU campuses ranked in the top 100 of Washington Monthly's “Best Bank for the Buck" schools in the West in 2022, with Cal State LA, Cal Maritime, Stanislaus State, CSUN and Sacramento State filling out the top ten. The rankings consider factors like the cost of attendance, the number of enrolled students and graduates who are Pell-eligible—demonstrating significant financial need—and the amount of debt the average student accrues.

The CSU provides the most affordable higher education in the nation with the lowest tuition and fees among comparable peer institutions. Additionally, 83 percent of students receive some form of financial aid and more than half of bachelor's degree recipients graduated with zero student loan debt in 2021-22.


Lights. Camera. Action

CSUN once again ranked among the Hollywood Reporter's 2022 list of the Top 25 American Film Schools​. The publication credited the program for acting as a pipeline to the industry's executive ranks and for its expansion of virtual production, as well as its affordable tuition for aspiring film students. The ranking also named notable alumni such as Arielle Kilker, a two-time Emmy Award-winning editor, and Glenn S. Gainor, head of physical production at Amazon.

Cal State Long Beach, Cal State LA and San Francisco State also received honorable mentions in the Reporter's list, which praised the universities' low tuition and sparkling reputations. SF State alumna and 2017 CSU Trustees' scholar Anaiis Cisco, a filmmaker and an assistant professor of moving image production at Smith College, said of her college experience:

“The media professionals in SF State's School of Cinema​ helped me develop my craft as a filmmaker and as a professor. I found ways to intersect art and scholarship while supporting and learning from the next generations of student creators."

In an effort to provide a competitive​ edge to CSU students entering the entertainment industry, the university established the CSU Entertainment Alliance​ (CSUEA) which provides internship, financial aid and other opportunities. 


Going Green

The CSU has a deep commitment to sustainability, evident in its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, invest in sustainable building practices and engage students in climate change research. In its 2022 Sustainable Campus Index (SCI), the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recognized Chico State as the top performer overall among master's institutions for its environmental practices and commitment to sustainability.

Chico State was also among the top performers in subcategories including curriculum, which looks at courses, programs and learning outcomes in sustainability, and water conservation and reuse. Several other CSU campuses were also recognized among the ten overall top performers: CSUN, San José State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.


A Global Education

Four CSU campuses were named top producers of Fulbright Scholars​ among master's institutions for 2021-22, according to the Chronicle of Higher EducationChico StateCal Poly San Luis ObispoCSU Channel Islands and Cal Poly Humboldt.

More than 800 U.S. scholars, artists and early-career professionals teach or conduct research overseas through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program annually. Through these opportunities, faculty gain a global perspective that they bring home to CSU students and also help find solutions to global problems.

CSUCI professor of applied physics Geoff Dougherty, Ph.D., says his experiences as a Fulbright Scholar have further improved his teaching and provided myriad ideas for new course development and student research. Dr. Dougherty is a veteran Fulbright Scholar, having traveled to Indonesia as a Fulbright Specialist in Engineering Education in 2013 and 2018, and to Australia as a Fulbright Senior in 2009. During his 2022 trip, he taught at two universities: Diponegoro University in Central Java and Airlangga University in East Java.​


Stay tuned for more stories highlighting the unique reasons to attend a CSU, and learn about what's happening across the university at