Princeton, Harvard and Yale top U.S. News rankings

Princeton holds the top spot in the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings, the eighth straight year the private, New Jersey school has either tied or held the top slot outright.

Just like last year, Princeton was followed by Harvard at No. 2 and Yale at No. 3 in the controversial rankings. As usual, a few schools moved up or down a slot, but there were no major changes. Stanford was No. 4, followed by Cal Tech and the University of Pennsylvania tied for fifth.

Williams and Amherst were the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges .

The rankings, which hit newsstands Monday in the magazine's annual " America's Best Colleges " guide, are facing particularly vocal complaints this year from a group of colleges and educators working to develop an alternative to the system.

So far, the group led by education activist Lloyd Thacker hasn't formally enlisted any of the top-ranked schools. But the magazine has responded to one complaint: that the rankings punish schools for enrolling low-income students. For the first time this year, U.S. News is factoring the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants into its calculation of a school's "graduation rate performance."

Also new this year: The magazine has included the service academies. The U.S. Naval Academy is ranked No. 20 in the liberal arts college category, and the U.S. Military Academy is No. 22. The U.S. Air Force Academy leads the list of "Best Baccalaureate Colleges" in the western region.

The formula for the rankings includes variables such as graduation and retention rates, faculty and financial resources, and the percentage of alumni donating money to their alma mater. The biggest single variable — and the most controversial — is a reputation assessment by peer institutions.

The top 10 national universities were:

1. Princeton University

2. Harvard University

3. Yale University

4. Stanford University

5. California Institute of Technology

University of Pennsylvania (tie)

7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

8. Duke University

9. Columbia University

University of Chicago (tie)