About Those Articles in the Times, Chronicle, and Inside Higher Ed. . .

The man behind the college rankings comments on mistakes in the early coverage of the launch.


The 2008 edition of the America's Best Colleges rankings has been public since Aug. 17, 2007. Here are some comments about a few of the numerous articles written about the rankings.

The New York Times article "College Ratings Race Roars On Despite Concerns" needs a few clarifications. The article reads that "critics say that the magazine, which does not verify information submitted by the colleges, bears some responsibility for the litany of tactics that colleges employ." This sentence isn't accurate because U.S. News does verify the data. I've already written a detailed blog entry on how we check the rankings data. The same New York Times article also points to Washington & Jefferson College's (PA) efforts to boost its numbers of applications with the possible goal of rising in the rankings by dropping its acceptance rate, which counts for just 1.5 percent of the U.S. News ranking. This particular strategy obviously doesn't work since Washington & Jefferson College's latest rankings in the liberal arts colleges' category fell to 106th from 104th the previous year.

Inside Higher Ed's article "Refusing to Rank" says of our decision to add the percentage of Pell Grant recipients to our Graduation Rate Performance Indicator for National Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges "that the impact has been minimal at the top levels. The usual suspects occupy the top slots and they generally aren't the institutions with top performance on enrolling low-income students." This is true at the very top, but it's misleading because some leading public universities such as University of California-Los Angeles and University of Texas-Austin—two schools that enroll large percentages of Pell Grant recipients—both rose in the rankings significantly as a result of the improvement in the graduation rate performance measure.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's article "College Rankings From 'U.S. News' Change Little, but Response Rate to Reputational Survey Drops" discusses the September 2007 launch of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities' (NAICU) U-Can, an initiative to create an online database of college information for prospective students. The Chronicle makes an important point about these new data efforts by NAICU and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and others in higher education when it says "it's not clear how—or if—the different information sources now under consideration would fit together. There is reasonable worry among some officials that higher education will end up with a confusing mess of data, sponsored by an alphabet soup of different groups."

Also according to the Chronicle, Gerhard Casper, the former Stanford president, doubts that any database could capture the attention of students and parents the way U.S. News does. But he thinks that colleges now have an opportunity to hold a crucial discussion about what can and cannot be measured in education. He has no illusions, however, about the universal popularity of top-25 lists. "The quantification of society," he said, "we are not going to stop."

We agree with the former Stanford president and welcome the publication of more higher education data, but we also believe in the value of an independent, third-party looking at colleges and putting the schools' information into a context that helps people make side-by-side comparisons.