The U.S. News rankings have been in the news lately because of questions about some of the information a few schools have submitted. First, it's important to note that U.S. News produces the rankings to spotlight the country's top academic programs. The rankings give the public the important ability to compare institutions on many key characteristics. We believe that they offer prospective students and their parents one tool to start to find the best school for them.
Though much of the data U.S. News uses to calculate the rankings can be (and often is) cross-checked with the statistics that government and professional agencies gather, U.S. News does rely on the schools to report data accurately to us. This is a reasonable expectation, given that these same academic institutions are dedicated to the exchange of information and demand the highest level of accuracy and integrity from their students and faculty.
There have been a few incidents of data problems that have occurred in the hundreds of thousands of data points we publish. We take these reports very seriously, investigate what happened in each circumstance, and respond appropriately. Most recently, the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering on June 10 told U.S. News that its actual number of full-time, tenure-track engineering faculty members who have been elected members of the National Academy of Engineering—a very high honor for engineering faculty—was actually 13 at the end of 2008. The school had reported 30 NAE members to U.S. News when we did the Best Engineering Schools rankings, published in April. We have contacted the school to discuss how this discrepancy occurred.
How would this reporting error by USC have affected its U.S. News engineering ranking? It would have meant that the 2008 percentage of the school's full-time, tenure track engineering faculty who were NAE members would have fallen from 18.3 percent to 7.9 percent. The percentage is the calculation U.S. News uses for NAE membership in the ranking model. USC's Viterbi engineering school likely would have fallen in the rankings, but—because the rankings use so many different data points—it does not appear the impact would have been dramatic. U.S. News is not going to publish revised rankings of graduate engineering schools. We are, however, working on a method of updating our website so that changes such as this can be noted.
U.S. News has been working closely with the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for a number of years to improve the accuracy of the data submitted to us by engineering schools. U.S. News and the ASEE already exchange data on engineering school research expenditures in order to ensure the accuracy of the figures used in the graduate engineering school rankings. In the future, the ASEE's engineering school deans have told us that they are going to help develop ways to improve the accuracy of the number of NAE members that is reported by schools to U.S. News.