A couple of journalists are making the case for the U.S. News rankings, explaining why the actions of a group of college presidents who have signed the letter boycotting the U.S. News peer survey may not be in the best interests of prospective students and their parents.
Robert Samuelson, a prizewinning journalist who works for Newsweek, does that in his Washington Post column "A College Course in Cynicism." Samuelson points out that the competition in college admissions isn't really that widespread because only a small group of schools are highly selective. He says the fact that the United States is a "status conscious society" and getting into "elite schools is a trophy" is the true cause of the college admissions frenzy. The U.S. News rankings aren't perfect, Samuelson writes, but they "expose users to masses of objective, comparative information: SAT scores; acceptance rates; graduation rates; student-faculty ratios." His sharpest point comes when he says that these college presidents are practicing "soft censorship" by not participating in the U.S. News rankings:
"[W]hat's so shameful about this campaign against the rankings is its anti-intellectualism. Much information is in some way incomplete or imperfect. The proper response to evidence that you dislike or dispute is to supplement or discredit it with better evidence. The wrong response is to suppress it. And yet, that's the agenda of these college presidents. By not cooperating with the U.S. News survey, they hope to sabotage the rankings. They say they'll provide superior information. But they want to control what parents and students see. This is soft censorship. What their students will learn, if they're paying attention, is a life lesson in cynicism: how eminent authorities cloak their self-interest in high-sounding, deceptive rhetoric."
John J. Miller, the political reporter at the National Review, also offers some perspective on the U.S. News rankings in his recent article "They Protest Too Much: The U.S. News college rankings fill a void." Miller says... "the magazine's editors and writers aren't interfering with higher education so much as responding to a consumer demand for more information about it. The demand exists because colleges and universities are among the least accountable institutions in American life." He also notes that the rankings aren't perfect but adds that despite the flaws, "the U.S. News rankings indisputably measure something—and something is better than nothing, which is why parents of high school students pore over the magazine's tables and charts. This is rational behavior for people on the verge of spending more huge sums of money on the education of a single child. Like wise investors, they want to know if they're getting a good deal."
Bottom line: U.S. News believes strongly that we are doing the right thing by publishing the America's Best Colleges rankings because we are providing valuable information to prospective students and their parents.