By Rachel Brody |
Thank you, Mr. President. You may have problems with the way we measure colleges, but your announcement that the Department of Education will begin to define its own college ratings system was a welcome ratification of the value of some of the work we do. Rankings, done right, are a powerful, useful source of information for consumers as well as policymakers. Their credibility depends on who's doing them for what reason, how carefully the methodology is constructed and whether the data is available and accurate.
At U.S. News & World Report, we've been ranking colleges for 30 years. We're in the journalism business. As with all of our more than two dozen rankings products, we publish them as a service to help our readers make complex decisions.
We've built and improved our methodology based on consultation with industry experts and our ultimate judgment about what factors go into making a good school. We make use of the best available data and vet it for accuracy through a series of common data sets. A few schools cheat, but not many.
The result is a ranking of 1,800 schools compared on an apples-to-apples basis, treating an Ivy League school no differently than a state university, by broad measure, but also breaking out specific subcategories such as small liberal arts colleges or regional state universities. The information is freely available to students and parents looking to find a college that fits them. We stress that the rankings are a starting point in a research process, not the end point.
The factors we use in compiling the ranking are well-documented on our website. They include a mix of inputs, such as student SAT scores, resources, faculty salaries, outcomes and graduation rates. We reward schools that spend more per capita on academic programs because money is important. We survey college officials about their competitors, as well as high school guidance counselors, because the views of professionals add up to a meaningful consensus on a school's reputation.
We know the rankings aren't perfect, mostly because some of the data we'd like to get isn't available. What have students learned when they graduate? Did they get jobs? How much do they earn? These are factors most consumers would like to know. But for the most part, they aren't measured by schools in any comparable way.
Maybe the president can help us out with this.
About Brian Kelly Editor of U.S. News & World Report
Paul Glastris Editor in Chief of the Washington Monthly
Ben Miller Senior Policy Analyst at the New America Foundation
Philip Altbach Director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College