Your Thoughts—and Our Responses—on College Rankings Changes

U.S. News gives detailed answers to questions about proposed changes in the upcoming College rankings.

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In my June 4 blog post, What May Change in Upcoming College Rankings, I discussed some of methodology and presentation changes that U.S. News is considering for the upcoming 2011 edition of the America's Best Colleges rankings.

Here are brief responses to some of the comments I received:

1. Some have questioned whether high school counselors have enough knowledge to rate colleges and wondered why U.S. News thinks their opinions should be included in the rankings. Counselors say that they have a considerable amount of knowledge about the college admissions process and that they have highly informed opinions on many colleges in their region and nationwide. We agree. We think that counselors have enough broad experience and the expertise that is needed to assess the academic quality of colleges and universities, given their role in assisting prospective students and their parents as they make choices about pursuing postsecondary education. U.S. News is also doing this counselor survey to obtain opinions on the relative merits of colleges from a much larger, diverse group of higher education experts than just the college presidents, provosts, and admission deans that we already use—and will continue to use—as part of the rankings. If we add the high school counselor rankings, it would impact the National Universities and Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories, and we would reduce the weight of academic peer assessment survey, which now accounts for 25 percent of the rankings in those categories.

2. U.S. News is not going to drop the concept of doing peer assessment or including it in the upcoming 2011 edition of the America's Best Colleges rankings. We believe that there is an important need to measure the undergraduate academic reputation of a school relative to its peers. We feel that academic reputation of the school where a new graduate has obtained their degree is a very important factor and that a school's reputation can impact the ability of new college graduates to get that all-important first job or to get into a top graduate school.

3. If we eliminate the "Third Tier" and instead numerically rank 75 percent of the schools in each ranking category, up from 50 percent, U.S. News would also eliminate the term "Tier One" from Dropping the "Third Tier" would mean that the same number of schools would appear in each of the ranking tables. More would be numerically ranked and fewer would be listed alphabetically. There would still be the bottom 25 percent of each category listed alphabetically (now called the "Fourth Tier"), and that group would probably be renamed to something like the "Fourth Quartile." We believe dropping the "Third Tier" would make the rankings less confusing for users. 

4. U.S. News fully understands that if we return "admit yield" to the rankings, some in academia would think it would be a step backward. Many in academia will argue that admit yield can be manipulated through the use of early-decision or early-action programs that have close to a 100 percent yield, and schools wanting to improve their U.S. News rankings, it's argued, would encourage more applicants to use early-decision programs—which could hurt less sophisticated students and those needing financial aid. However, U.S. News believes that colleges change the parameters of their various early-decision or early-action programs for enrollment management reasons, not to improve in the U.S. News rankings.

5. It was suggested that U.S. News add health and wellness rankings. This is an important concept for parents and colleges students. Unfortunately, there are no existing metrics or data that can be used to develop such comparative health and wellness indicators.

[See the current methodology for America's Best Colleges.]

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