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Cal Poly Ranked Best Overall Master's-Level University in the West

A student in professor Leslie Hamachi’s CHEM 548 - Polymer Synthesis Laboratory and CHEM 448 - Polymers and Coatings Laboratory II class performs an experiment using different colors of UV light to see which will polymerize a solution in less time.
Written By Jay Thompson

For the first time, Cal Poly was named best overall master’s-level university in the West for both public and private institutions in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Colleges guidebook.

It’s the 31st year in a row the Learn by Doing university is ranked best public institution in the West and the first time it has been ranked tops among all 120 public and private institutions in the region.

The move to the top follows back-to-back No. 2 ratings in 2022 and 2023 behind the University of Portland. (The private Catholic university in Portland, Oregon, was rated No. 2 in the West this year.)

The 2024 U.S. News & World Report, the magazine’s 39th rankings edition, released Sept. 17 and evaluated nearly 1,500 four-year bachelor's degree-granting institutions on as many as 19 areas, statistics that pertain to measures reflecting academic quality and graduate outcomes — factors universally important to prospective students and their families.

In addition, Cal Poly was again named No. 1 in the West for Most Innovative Schools; several College of Engineering programs were ranked among the top five in the nation for masters-level educational institutions; and the university ranked for the fourth straight year as the top school in the West 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 rankings include 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.)

“We appreciate this recognition of the quality and dedication of our faculty and the reputation of Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing approach to education, which continues to attract the best and brightest students to our San Luis Obispo campus,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey D. Armstrong. “Our consecutive ranking streak is especially exciting for our current students as they ready to begin classes, and to their families and supporters. It also burnishes our reputation among employers who value a Cal Poly graduate as an individual who can be counted on to produce on their first day on the job.

“We also know that there is more we can do to serve the students of California and beyond, and we express our gratitude to our alumni, industry partners and donors who have joined with us to help provide needed resources that are continuing to shape our campus into one of the best institutions — public or private — of higher education in the nation.”

Cal Poly placed highly in several other rankings, including:

-Repeating as the top-listed university in the West for Most Innovative Schools Institutions that are making the most innovative improvements and “promising changes” in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities, according to U.S. News. Cal Poly has received this ranking each since 2018.

-Best in the West for the fourth straight year 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.

-Moving up a spot to fifth in best master’s-level engineering programs in the nation. Among specialty programs, Cal Poly’s Computer Engineering remained at the top of public and private institutions. The Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Civil Engineering programs were ranked No. 2 overall.

-Ranked in the top 75 in Top Performers on Social Mobility. This category ranks 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. Cal Poly rose 22 spots to 75th from last year, when it tied for 97th.

-Ranked 17th in Best Value Schools. This ranking considers a school's academic quality (based on its 2024 U.S. News Best Colleges ranking) and the 2022-23 net cost of attendance for an out-of-state student receiving the average level of need-based financial aid. “The higher the quality of the program and the lower the cost, the better the deal,” the guide reported.

In the other recent best colleges rankings, Cal Poly received a 5-star rating in Money magazine’s 2023 Best Colleges in America list released June 22. The personal finance website, in its ninth annual list, used six rankings — from 2.5 to 5 stars — to identify the 736 schools across the nation “where your tuition (and time) is likely to pay off.” Cal Poly achieved the top rating along with 33 other schools, including Ivy League universities as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia.

Cal Poly was among seven top California schools — and the only California State University campus — to receive 5-star recognition.

More details on Cal Poly's 2023 U.S. News rankings are available online. 

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