U.S. News Investigates Data Discrepancies in the Best Colleges Rankings

U.S. News details the results of its investigation of data discrepancies in the Best Colleges rankings.

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The New York Times earlier this week ran a story within Education Life, "The Case of the Vanishing Full-Time Professor," about the growing use of part-time and adjunct faculty at U.S. colleges. The article said, "This fall, the American Federation of Teachers complained that some top-ranked universities exaggerated the percentage of full-time faculty to U.S. News & World Report for its rankings. U.S. News declined to investigate."

U.S. News has investigated the fall 2009 claim by the American Federation of Teachers. U.S. News contacted a large number of institutional researchers who work at colleges, and they felt that the faculty definition was very clear and unambiguous. The definition that U.S. News uses to collect full-time and part-time faculty counts at colleges is very precise, and it was developed by higher-education experts. It's the agreed-upon higher education standard contained in the Common Data Set, and it's publicly available for all to read. The experts U.S. News talked to felt that it was clear that the faculty definition meant that if colleges employed part-time or adjunct faculty, they should report that fact to U.S. News and that there was no wiggle room in the definition. In other words, if a university told U.S. News that the definition means that adjuncts should not be counted or that they were not reported, that particular college was consciously misreporting its faculty data or was on purpose deciding to understate its adjuncts for its own reasons.

U.S. News is not going to rerank schools based on any of the misreporting we discovered in our investigation or that was first reported in Inside Higher Ed in September 2009. The ranking variable in question, which is the proportion of faculty that is full time and is based on converting part-time standing to a full-time equivalent, counts as just 1 percent of the America's Best Colleges ranking and is the only part of the ranking that uses part-time faculty counts. Thus, for the small number of colleges that have misreported the number of part-time faculty to U.S. News, it would not make a meaningful difference in their rankings given that the factor is the lowest weighted indicator in the rankings.

U.S. News plans to carefully scrutinize the counts of faculty that colleges report in our upcoming calendar 2010 data collection for the upcoming America's Best Colleges rankings.