Best Colleges Reputation Survey Launches

College officials will soon receive peer assessment reputation surveys for the new rankings.

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U.S. News is moving ahead with the 2012 edition of the Best Colleges rankings, scheduled to be published later this year.

This week, we're in the process of mailing the annual peer assessment reputation surveys of undergraduate academic quality that will be a key part of the rankings. These reputation surveys account for 15 percent of a college's ranking in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges categories and 25 percent in the Regional Universities and Regional Colleges categories.

U.S. News knows that peer assessments are subjective, but they are also important—a diploma from a distinguished college can help a graduate get a good job and gain admission to a top-notch graduate program, just as a high school's reputation can help or harm an applicant's chances of getting into a good college.

The 10 separate academic reputation surveys are mailed to schools in these U.S. News rankings categories: National Universities, National Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges. The latter two categories are divided into four geographic areas: North, South, Midwest, and West. Each school gets three surveys, and college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans at about 1,528 colleges and universities should start receiving their individual surveys soon. Respondents have roughly eight weeks to return the surveys.

These 10 surveys will reflect a key change that will impact the upcoming rankings. In December 2010, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching updated its Basic Classification of higher education institutions. U.S. News has always used the Carnegie Classifications as the basis for our Best Colleges ranking categories, and we will continue to follow the Basic Classification that existed as of March 2011 for the 2012 rankings. As a result, some colleges will change U.S. News ranking categories from last year.

Finally, U.S. News will again issue two separate surveys asking high school counselors from public and private high schools nationwide for their views on the academic reputation of undergraduate programs in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges ranking categories. We believe high school counselors have unique knowledge of the quality of undergraduate programs in this country that will be very valuable to our readers. As was the case last year, U.S. News will incorporate the results of the high school counselor rankings directly into the Best Colleges methodology used in the National Universities and National Liberal Arts rankings. Last year, they counted for 7.5 percent of the overall score.

Some of the other key information we seek through these surveys:

• Which schools are best at undergraduate teaching? We have asked respondents to nominate up to 10 colleges (from their U.S. News ranking category) where the faculty have an unusually strong "commitment to undergraduate teaching."

• Which schools are up and coming? We are asking respondents as part of the undergraduate academic quality surveys to nominate up to 10 "up-and-coming institutions" from their U.S. News ranking category. These are the schools that everyone is—or should be—looking at because they are making the most promising and innovative changes on their campuses.

• We have included an opinion poll, sponsored by Fidelity Investments, that seeks input on a series of important issues facing higher education today and in the future, including the impact of online education and rising costs. The results will not be part of any ranking and will be published later in 2011.

We'll also be mailing a separate set of peer assessment surveys that are used to calculate the undergraduate business, undergraduate engineering, and historically black colleges and universities rankings.

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