The U.S. is on top again.

The county may be sixth in the world in terms of the percent of the population with college credentials and 20th in the world (just below Slovenia) in terms of general education quality, Cambridge may even have even surpassed American universities as the best in the world, but apparently America is the best “at providing higher education.” What this really means is not so useful, however.

The number one position comes from a new study by Universitas 21 Ranking, an international group of researches. According to the organization:

Research authors at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, looked at the most recent data from 48 countries and territories across 20 different measures. The measures are grouped under four headings: resources (investment by government and private sector), output (research and its impact, as well as the production of an educated workforce which meets labour market needs), connectivity (international networks and collaboration which protects a system against insularity) and environment (government policy and regulation, diversity and participation opportunities). It also takes population size into account and produces some interesting results.

Interesting, indeed. The top 20 counties are:

1) United States
2) Sweden
3) Canada
4) Finland
5) Denmark
6) Switzerland
7) Norway
8) Australia
9) Netherlands
10) United Kingdom
11) Singapore
12) Austria
13) Belgium
14) New Zealand
15) France
16) Ireland
17) Germany
18) Hong Kong
19) Israel
20) Japan

The factors they used to determine quality tax the patience of any education critics, however; “resources, output, connectivity, and environment” are hardly the factors any most students or scholars would consider when thinking about higher education systems or how to implement change.

The United States, for instance, certainly has a very high investment by government and private sector, but it’s not really clear that the investment is appropriate or efficient.

Part of the reason the list falls the way it does is because researchers didn’t consider affordability, learning, or completion rates. These things are arguably much, much more important things to considering when determining the quality of a national higher education system for undergraduates.

Another rating fail.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer