U.S. News and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings share an important goal. We both believe that there should be considerably more transparency at colleges and universities so prospective students and their parents can be informed about the costly and very important decision of which college to attend. In fact, U.S. News has been a leader in the drive for increased accountability among higher education institutions, and our rankings have been one of the factors that have pushed schools to publish more evaluative and consumer-friendly information about themselves.
Spelling cited the success of the U.S. News America's Best Colleges rankings in a December 2007 speech to a group of higher education accrediting officials as evidence of the public desire for meaningful information on how to choose and pay for college. She said:
[I]f you ever doubt the need or appetite for your mission, consider the U.S. News college rankings. It's been called the 'swimsuit edition' of postsecondary reporting. Within 72 hours of its release, the U.S. News website was viewed 10 million times. There's a reason why this magazine is so popular. As I said before, families know that selecting and paying for college is one of the most important and costly decisions they will ever make. They need and deserve the best information to guide them. And they should be able to get it from the people who make our higher education system the envy of the world.
Spellings is also making a push to make the relatively secretive higher education accreditation process much more understandable. She said in the same speech that accreditation remains veiled and confusing even for many within the higher education community. My department and the Congress have heard from many who have little knowledge of how they're being judged. If institutions are placed on probation, they may not know what's required to return to good standing. Further, the great variation in how accreditors understand and interpret their role may have the unintended consequence of limiting options for students—particularly in these dynamic times. As institutions add new locations, launch distance education programs, develop new degrees, and undergo changes in ownership, the lack of consistent standards can impede their ability to meet marketplace demands.... Students and institutions need and deserve more openness, transparency, and consistency.