U.S. News believes that institutional researchers at colleges and universities play an important role in higher education. We have worked closely with them for many years, and their input has led to improvements and changes in our Best Colleges rankings and the data that we collect for our website.
Institutional researchers study higher education issues and trends, do peer school comparisons, conduct assessments, survey students, and complete external surveys, including the ones used for the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings.
I recently attended the Association for Institutional Research's 2012 annual forum, "Defining Institutional Research," in New Orleans. My colleagues Sam Flanigan, U.S. News's deputy director of data research; Diane Tolis, data collection manager; Eric Brooks, data research analyst; and I gave a presentation at the forum called "U.S.News & World Report's Best Colleges: Details Behind Last Year's Changes and What Will Be New for the Upcoming Rankings."
We discussed the methodology changes that were made in the 2012 edition of the Best Colleges rankings (published in September 2011). The changes included:
• Using the Carnegie Foundation's "Basic Classification," which was revised in late 2010, as the basis for the U.S. News ranking categories and how that resulted in many schools changing in the rankings.
• Adding for-profits, which mainly offer degree-completion programs at the bachelor's level, to the universe of schools eligible to be ranked. We explained that in almost all cases they were designated as "Unranked." In the U.S. News rankings methodology, schools that mainly serve nontraditional students and don't require the SAT or ACT for admission are listed as "Unranked."
• Increased the use of data that came from the U.S. Department of Education in the rankings for schools that didn't respond to the U.S. News statistical survey. We said we are considering expanding the use of U.S. Department of Education data in the upcoming rankings for schools with missing data.
We also talked a great deal about the new U.S. News Online Education Program rankings that were published in early January 2012 and how we plan to evolve and improve them.