The U.S. News America's Best Colleges rankings have been in the news a great deal this week. On June 19, an organization of independent liberal arts colleges called the Annapolis Group released a statement about some of its members' positions on participating in the peer assessment survey we use in the rankings. The statement says the majority of the college presidents attending the group's annual meeting "expressed their intent not to participate in the annual US News and World Report ranking exercise. The Annapolis Group is not a legislative body and any decision about participating in the US News rankings rests with the individual institutions." It also says the members agreed to offer their schools' data to the public in an alternative, common format: "The Web-based initiative, to be developed in collaboration with other higher education organizations, will provide easily accessible, comprehensive, and quantifiable data. The Annapolis Group members will work with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), among others to develop this common instrument."
Numerous media outlets have covered the Annapolis Group's statement with a balanced approach, including Inside Higher Ed and CNN. Others have been critical of the Annapolis Group's decision, questioning the motives behind its actions and debating whether this is an actual boycott—The Quick and The Ed, EphBlog and USA Today. Some articles, such as the Chronicle of Higher Ed 's piece, did not give U.S. News a chance to respond.
In terms of the peer assessment survey, we at U.S. News firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the "intangibles" of a college that we can't measure through statistical data. Plus, the reputation of a school can help get that all-important first job and plays a key part in which grad school someone will be able to get into. The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges.
It's important to point out that the Annapolis Group's stated goal of presenting college data in a common format has been tried before. The data that the NAICU is talking about, according to its spokesperson, will be via a "template and through hyperlinks to the institutions covering a variety of areas, including admissions, enrollment, demonstration of academic quality, student demographics, graduation rates, most common fields of study, transfer of credit policy, accreditation, faculty information, class size, tuition and fees trends, price of attendance, financial aid, campus housing, student life, and campus safety."
Impressive, but U.S. News has been supplying this exact college information for many years already. And it appears that NAICU will be doing it with significantly less comparability and functionality. U.S. News first collects all these data (using an agreed-upon set of definitions from the Common Data Set). Then we post the data on our website in easily accessible, comparable tables. In other words, the Annapolis Group and the others in the NAICU initiative actually are following the lead of U.S. News.
Bottom line: The NAICU templates will offer consumers far less than what U.S. News currently offers. If consumers want to compare schools, they will not be able to look at one table; they will have to print out school tables one by one and then compare. NAICU is offering the public far less than it gives itself credit for.