Still on top. Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Elite institutions have remained that way for more than 100 years for a reason.

Outside of a few minor shifts generally ignored by all but the most competitive alums, college rankings are usually pretty stable in the United States—so it takes a rather wide view to see how American higher education has changed.

A good starting point might be 1911. That year, as highlighted by Vox, the US Bureau of Education’s Kendric Babcock divided (pdf) America’s colleges into four tiers based on the value of their degrees and how well their students were prepared for graduate school, with “Class 1″ representing the very best institutions.

The result caused an uproar among colleges and the rankings weren’t repeated. But Duke sociology professor Kieran Healy took it upon himself to compare those rankings to the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings of American universities.

One takeaway: The elite largely remain elite. Most of the current top schools in U.S. News’ rankings were rated Class 1 back in 1911. These private universities have what Healy calls “sticky” reputations, while many public universities have seen their standing decline over the past 103 years.

Institutions like the University of Nebraska and the University of Kansas were Class 1 in 1911, but are far from the top of the U.S. News ranking now. It’s a symptom of a century in which the endowments of prestigious private institutions have skyrocketed while many public universities have seen funding cut. And just as in 1911, the rankings don’t pay much attention to cost effectiveness. Those private schools at the top cost vastly more to attend than public schools.

Babcock was working before many of today’s universities were founded or became prominent, so the full chart from Healy also gives a fascinating sense of which newer universities have managed to build a strong reputation in a relatively short amount of time. Institutions not ranked by Babcock are designated by a pink bubble:

Liberal arts schools, which are mostly private, saw some movementSwarthmore, Middlebury, and Pomona have climbed, while Knox, Lake Forest, and Goucher have dropped precipitously:

For reference, here’s how Babcock defined each of the four classes:

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

Our Love/Hate Relationship with Technology, Charted

Why Princeton Wants to Kill its Cap on Giving Students As

This Bus Stop Makes Waiting for the Bus a Lot More Fun

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Maps

    Your Maps of Life Under Lockdown

    Stressful commutes, unexpected routines, and emergent wildlife appear in your homemade maps of life during the coronavirus pandemic.

  2. photo: an open-plan office
    Life

    Even the Pandemic Can’t Kill the Open-Plan Office

    Even before coronavirus, many workers hated the open-plan office. Now that shared work spaces are a public health risk, employers are rethinking office design.

  3. photo: Social-distancing stickers help elevator passengers at an IKEA store in Berlin.
    Transportation

    Elevators Changed Cities. Will Coronavirus Change Elevators?

    Fear of crowds in small spaces in the pandemic is spurring new norms and technological changes for the people-moving machines that make skyscrapers possible.

  4. photo: The Pan-Am Worldport at JFK International Airport, built in 1960,
    Design

    Why Airports Die

    Expensive to build, hard to adapt to other uses, and now facing massive pandemic-related challenges, airport terminals often live short, difficult lives.

  5. Life

    When the Cruise Ships Stop Coming

    As coronavirus puts the cruise industry on hold, some popular ports are rethinking their relationship with the tourists and economic benefits the big ships bring.

×