Duke and UNC keep pulling top marks in U.S. News grad-school rankings

The U.S. News & World Report graduate-school rankings are starting to resemble the early-1990s Triangle basketball scene, with Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill taking turns reaching the summit.

A year after UNC’s pharmacy school hit No. 1 for programs of its type, the magazine on Tuesday gave Duke’s School of Nursing its place in the sun, awarding it twin No. 1s for its master’s and doctoral offerings.

As is their habit, Allen Building officials low-keyed their response, highlighting the ranking via a short new release that omitted any quoted reaction from administrators. But the School of Nursing itself was in a celebratory mood. Its dean, Marion Broome, called the recognition “a tremendous honor, achievement and responsibility” for professors, staff and students who’ve “created the expectation of excellence that will define our future.”

As was for the case last year for UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the Duke nursing school reached the top slot after knocking on the door for a couple years’ worth of the magazine’s rankings. In 2016, its master’s program tied for fourth, and the doctoral program held down the No. 3 slot. This time around, it leap-frogged its competition at Johns Hopkins University, which was No. 2 for both types of degrees.

UNC’s nursing master’s program ranked 17th and its doctoral program ranked 20th.

Elsewhere in rankings, Duke and UNC’s grad-level programs generally maintained their recent relatively standings in the U.S. News rankings, which are an outgrowth of peer votes and a blend of statistic measures.

Their flagship medical schools continued to stand out, with UNC’s remaining in the No. 2 slot as a place for would-be physicians to train for a primary care practice and Duke’s moving up a place to become the country’s seventh-ranked research institution.

Both had double-threat status, as the UNC med school ranked 24th for research and Duke’s ranked 34th for primary-care training.

Duke med’s primary-care ranking was a noteworthy slip from its No. 8 showing in 2016, but wasn’t too far from its No. 29 placement in 2015.

Comment and explanation from school officials wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but a Web posting from U.S. News Chief Data Strategist Robert Morse acknowledged the magazine had changed its ranking methodology, for the first time using “a logarithmic transformation” of med-school faculty-student ratios to correct for “skewed distributions.” A similar statistical normalization also touched several of the numbers that went into the nursing-school rankings.

The Duke and UNC masters of business programs more or less held serve, with the Fuqua School of Business remaining at No. 12 and the Kenan-Flagler Business School dropping two slots to No. 18.

On the engineering front, Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering ranked 29th, about where it’s been in recent years. Its counterpart at N.C. State University ranked 25th, three slots ahead of its tie with Pratt of two years ago.

UNC’s School of Education ranked 31st, its best showing in this half of the decade.

The Triangle hosts two highly ranked law schools, but the relative standing of UNC’s continues to slip. Tuesday’s ranking placed it 39th, down one slot from a year ago and five slots from 2015. Public-university law schools from 14 other states bettered its showing. Duke’s law school, meanwhile, held the 10th slot.

Elsewhere in North Carolina, East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine ranked 20th for primary-care training. Wake Forest University’s law school ranked 36th, while its medical school ranked 53rd for research and 74th for primary-care training. UNC Charlotte’s engineering school slipped out of the rankings, a year after a 139th-place showing, and Campbell University’s law school likewise dropped out of the publishing rankings a year after coming in at No. 144. N.C. Central University’s law school continued without a published ranking for at least its third year in a row.

U.S. News also announced another set of grad-program rankings it doesn’t update every year, covering fields in the social science and the specialty field of library science.

In the social sciences, Duke and UNC both turned in strong showings, particularly for their political science programs, which ranked seventh and 11th, respectively. In history, the UNC master’s degree and Ph.D. alma mater of new National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster ranked 11th to its Duke counterpart’s 18th. The two universities also notched high rankings for an assortment of sub-specialities in those fields, with Duke’s political science program showing notable across-the-board strength in the discipline

In sociology UNC ranked 6th, with Duke 15th. Duke topped UNC in English and economics, for those programs getting rankings of 13 and 16 respectively, to UNC’s 18 and 29.

Finally, UNC’s School of Library and Information Science ranked third in its field, behind only public-university competitors in Illinois and Washington. Similar library science programs at UNC Greensboro, N.C. Central and East Carolina ranked 22nd, 37th and 43rd, respectively.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg