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Cal Poly Earns Best in the West Ranking from U.S. News — For The 28th Straight Year

Students wearing face masks and keeping a safe distance on Cal Poly's campus.
Written By Matt Lazier

Editor's note: This article is from 2020. Click here to read about Cal Poly's most recent Best in the West ranking.

For the 28th straight year, Cal Poly has been named the best public, master’s-level university in the West by U.S. News & World Report’s annual America’s Best Colleges guidebook.

The 2021 guide, released Sept. 14, provides data on more than 1,800 colleges and universities and rankings for more than 1,400 institutions. It lists Cal Poly in third overall in the West — up one from last year and an improvement of nine spots from 2019’s rankings.

In addition, several College of Engineering programs were ranked as the best in the nation among public educational institutions, and Cal Poly was ranked as the top western school for veterans among public and private institutions that participate in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members pay for their degrees.

The Western regional list includes public and private institutions in 15 states that provide “a full range of undergraduate and master’s-level programs but few doctoral programs.” (Universities that grant doctoral degrees, such as those in the University of California system, are listed in a separate category.)

“For more than a generation, we have taken pride in being recognized as one of the best universities in the nation,” said university President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “Our goal is to produce the next generation of industry innovators and future leaders who, through Learn by Doing, graduate ready to contribute in their careers from Day One. These rankings also positively reflect on our talented and dedicated faculty and staff who devote themselves to helping students thrive and succeed in life.”

Cal Poly placed highly in several additional rankings for regional universities, including:

— Repeating as best Top Public Schools in the Western U.S. among institutions that operate under the supervision of state governments and funded, in part, by tax dollars and state subsidies. These universities often offer discounted tuition to residents of their states.

— Tied for first (with Evergreen State College, a public liberal arts and sciences college of about 3,000 students in Olympia, Washington) for Most Innovative Schools — institutions that are making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.

— Best in the West (up from second last year and an improvement from sixth-place two years ago) for most veteran-friendly universities — a listing that shows the top-ranked schools that participate in federal initiatives helping veterans and active-duty service members pay for their degrees.

— Ranked as best public university in the West — and second overall behind Mills College, a small private liberal arts and sciences college in Oakland, California — for undergraduate teaching program.

— Once again ranked eighth on the list of best master’s/bachelor’s engineering programs in the nation — the fourth-best public university and top public California university on the list. Among specialty programs, Cal Poly’s industrial/manufacturing program was ranked No. 1; aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering, computer engineering, civil engineering and electrical/electronic/communications all ranked No. 2; mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering ranked at No. 3. In each specialty program, Cal Poly was the best public university in the U.S.

Ranked in the top 100 (tied at 96th) in the Top Performers on Social Mobility category among western schools that “advance social mobility” by enrolling and graduating large proportions of disadvantaged students awarded with Pell Grants. The bulk of these federal grants are awarded to students whose adjusted gross family incomes are under $50,000.

The U.S. News rankings methodology focuses on academic excellence, with schools evaluated on hundreds of data points and measures of academic quality, such as graduation and freshman retention rates. The first edition of the rankings was released in 1983, and they have continued to evolve with more schools and data points for college-bound students to consider.

This year’s rankings data predate the coronavirus pandemic, so the impact of COVID-19 on higher education is not reflected in how schools performed overall.

For more on Cal Poly’s U.S. News ranking, visit