U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Ranking

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2022 Best Colleges magazine cover
2022 Best Colleges magazine cover

The U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Ranking is an annual set of rankings of colleges and universities in the United States, first published in 1983.

Although the rankings are the most influential of their kind in the United States, they have been widely denounced by many higher education experts.[1] Detractors argue that they rely on self-reported, sometimes fraudulent data by the institutions,[2][3][4][5] encourage gamesmanship by institutions looking to improve their rank,[6] imply a false precision by deriving an ordinal ranking from questionable data,[7] contribute to the admissions frenzy by unduly highlighting prestige,[8] and ignore individual fit by comparing institutions with widely diverging missions on the same scale.[9]

Methodology[edit]

U.S. News ranked a total of 1,466 schools for 2022. The following are the elements of the U.S. News ranking as of the 2022 edition:[10]

  • "Outcomes" (40%):
    • Graduation and retention rates (22%): the proportion of each entering class earning a degree in six years or less (17.6%), and the proportion of first-year entering students who returned the following fall (4.4%)
    • Graduation rate performance (8%): actual six-year graduation rates compared with predictions for the fall 2014 entering class
    • Social mobility (5%): how well schools graduated students who received federal Pell Grants
    • Graduate indebtedness (5%): the total federal loan debt for the school (3%), and the percentage of students at the school who have federal loan debt (2%)
  • "Faculty resources" (20%):
    • Class size (8%)
    • Faculty salary (7%)
    • Faculty with the highest degree in their fields (3%)
    • Student-faculty ratio (1%)
    • Proportion of faculty who are full time (1%)
  • "Expert opinion" (20%): presidents, provosts and deans of admissions rate the academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar on a scale of 1 (marginal) to 5 (distinguished)
  • "Financial resources" (10%): the average per-student spending on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures
  • "Student selectivity" (7%): the standardized test scores of admitted students and the proportion of admitted students in upper percentiles of their high school class
  • "Alumni Giving" (5%): living alumni with bachelor's degrees who gave to their school during 2018-2019 and 2019-2020

The publication is split into four categories: National Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, Regional Universities, and Regional Colleges, with the latter two categories further split into North, South, Midwest, and West.[11]

A 2014 study published in Research in Higher Education removed the mystique of the U.S. News ranking process by producing a ranking model that faithfully recreated U.S. News outcomes and quantified the inherent "noise" in the rankings for all nationally ranked universities. The model developed provided detailed insight into the U.S. News ranking process. It allowed the impact of changes to U.S. News sub factors to be studied when variation between universities and within sub factors was present. Numerous simulations were run using this model to understand the amount of change required for a university to improve its rank or move into the top 20. Results show that for a university ranked in the mid-30s it would take a significant amount of additional resources, directed in a very focused way, to become a top-ranked national university, and that rank changes of up to +/- 4 points should be considered "noise".[12]

Misreporting[edit]

Columbia University was removed from the 2022 rankings due to misreported data, where it was originally tied for second; the remaining "national universities" were not renumbered.[13]

Reception[edit]

For their 2014 release day, usnews.com garnered 2.6 million unique visitors and 18.9 million page views.[14][needs update]

Studies show that the U.S. News ranking influences college applications:

  • A University of Michigan study from 2010 found that university rankings in the United States significantly affect institutions' applications and admissions.[15] The research analyzed the effects of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, showing a lasting effect on college applications and admissions by students in the top 10% of their class.[15] In addition, they found that rankings influence survey assessments of reputation by college presidents at peer institutions, such that rankings and reputation are becoming much more similar over time.[16]
  • A 2011 study by Leadership and Management found that a one-rank improvement led to a 0.9% increase in the number of applicants.[17]

Some universities have made it a specific goal to reach a particular level in the U.S. News rankings:[18]

  • Clemson University's president, James F. Barker, made it a public goal in 2001 to rise to the top twenty schools of the U.S. News public university rankings, and made specific changes, including reducing class size and altering the presentation of teacher salaries, so as to perform better in the statistical analysis by U.S. News.[19]
  • Arizona State University in 2007 tied the university president's pay to an increase in the school's placement in the U.S. News rankings.[20]
  • Belmont University president Bob Fisher stated in 2010, "Rising to the Top 5 in U.S. News represents a key element of Belmont's Vision 2015 plan."[21]

Criticism[edit]

During the 1990s, several educational institutions in the United States were involved in a movement to boycott the U.S. News & World Report college rankings survey. The first was Reed College, which stopped submitting the survey in 1995. The survey was also criticized by Alma College, Stanford University, and St. John's College during the late 1990s.[22] SAT scores play a role in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings even though U.S. News is not empowered with the ability to formally verify or recalculate the scores that are represented to them by schools. Since the mid-1990s there have been many instances documented by the popular press wherein schools lied about their SAT scores in order to obtain a higher ranking.[23] An exposé in the San Francisco Chronicle stated that the elements in the methodology of U.S. News & World Report are redundant and can be reduced to one thing: money.[24]

The National Opinion Research Center reviewed the methodology in 2000 and stated that the weights "lack any defensible empirical or theoretical basis".[25] A New York Times article in 2003 likewise reported that, given the U.S. News weighting methodology, "it's easy to guess who's going to end up on top: the Big Three, Harvard, Yale and Princeton round out the first three essentially every year. When asked how he knew his system was sound, Mel Elfin, the rankings' founder, often answered that he knew it because those three schools always landed on top. When a new lead statistician, Amy Graham, changed the formula in 1999 to one she considered more statistically valid, the California Institute of Technology jumped to first place. Ms. Graham soon left, and a modified system pushed Princeton back to No. 1 the next year."[26]

On June 19, 2007, during the annual meeting of the Annapolis Group, members discussed the letter to college presidents asking them not to participate in the "reputation survey" section of the U.S. News & World Report survey (this section comprises 25% of the ranking). As a result, "a majority of the approximately 80 presidents at the meeting said that they did not intend to participate in the U.S. News reputational rankings in the future".[27] The statement also said that its members "have agreed to participate in the development of an alternative common format that presents information about their colleges for students and their families to use in the college search process".[28] This database will be web-based and developed in conjunction with higher-education organizations including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges. On June 22, 2007, U.S. News & World Report editor Robert Morse issued a response in which he argued, "in terms of the peer assessment survey, we at U.S. News firmly believe the survey has significant value because it allows us to measure the 'intangibles' of a college that we can't measure through statistical data. Plus, the reputation of a school can help get that all-important first job and plays a key part in which grad school someone will be able to get into. The peer survey is by nature subjective, but the technique of asking industry leaders to rate their competitors is a commonly accepted practice. The results from the peer survey also can act to level the playing field between private and public colleges".[29] In reference to the alternative database discussed by the Annapolis Group, Morse also argued, "It's important to point out that the Annapolis Group's stated goal of presenting college data in a common format has been tried before ... U.S. News has been supplying this exact college information for many years already. And it appears that NAICU will be doing it with significantly less comparability and functionality. U.S. News first collects all these data (using an agreed-upon set of definitions from the Common Data Set). Then we post the data on our website in easily accessible, comparable tables. In other words, the Annapolis Group and the others in the NAICU initiative actually are following the lead of U.S. News".[29]

The question of college rankings and their impact on admissions gained greater attention in March 2007, when Michele Tolela Myers (the former President of Sarah Lawrence College) shared in an op-ed[30] that U.S. News & World Report, when not given SAT scores for a university, chooses to simply rank the college with an invented SAT score of approximately one standard deviation (roughly 200 SAT points) behind those of peer colleges, with the reasoning being that SAT-optional universities will, because of their test-optional nature, accept higher numbers of less academically capable students.

Some higher education experts, such as Kevin Carey of Education Sector, have asserted that U.S. News & World Report's college rankings system is merely a list of criteria that mirrors the superficial characteristics of elite colleges and universities. According to Carey, the U.S. News ranking system is deeply flawed. Instead of focusing on the fundamental issues of how well colleges and universities educate their students and how well they prepare them to be successful after college, the magazine's rankings are almost entirely a function of three factors: fame, wealth, and exclusivity. He suggests that there are more important characteristics parents and students should research to select colleges, such as how well students are learning and how likely students are to earn a degree.[31]

In a 2011 article regarding the Sarah Lawrence controversy, Peter Sacks of The Huffington Post criticized the U.S. News rankings' centering on test scores and denounced the magazine's "best colleges" list as a scam:[32]

In the U.S. News worldview of college quality, it matters not a bit what students actually learn on campus, or how a college actually contributes to the intellectual, ethical and personal growth of students while on campus, or how that institution contributes to the public good ... and then, when you consider that student SAT scores are profoundly correlated [to] parental income and education levels – the social class that a child is born into and grows up with – you begin to understand what a corrupt emperor 'America's Best Colleges' really is. The ranking amounts to little more than a pseudo-scientific and yet popularly legitimate tool for perpetuating inequality between educational haves and have nots – the rich families from the poor ones, and the well-endowed schools from the poorly endowed ones.

The U.S. News college rankings have continued to be widely denounced by many higher education experts.[1] Detractors argue that they rely on self-reported, sometimes fraudulent data by the institutions,[2][3][4][5] encourage gamesmanship by institutions looking to improve their rank,[6] imply a false precision by deriving an ordinal ranking from questionable data,[7] contribute to the admissions frenzy by unduly highlighting prestige,[8] and ignore individual fit by comparing institutions with widely diverging missions on the same scale.[9] In 2022 a professor challenged the validity of the rankings saying that he was unable to replicate the results when examining the data.[33]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (April 11, 2022). "'Breaking Ranks' is a new book that attacks 'U.S. News'". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  2. ^ a b Elsen-Rooney, Michael (March 6, 2022). "Columbia math professor questions numbers behind university's #2 ranking on U.S. News list". nydailynews.com. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Lukpat, Alyssa (November 30, 2021). "Former Temple U. Dean Found Guilty of Faking Data for National Rankings". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (May 28, 2019). "University of Oklahoma stripped of 'U.S. News' ranking for supplying false information". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
  5. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (February 19, 2018). "False 'U.S. News' rankings data discovered for three more universities". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved March 13, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Breslow, Samuel (September 26, 2014). "The Case Against Being (Ranked) the Best". The Student Life. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Strauss, Valerie (September 12, 2018). "U.S. News changed the way it ranks colleges. It's still ridiculous". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (September 10, 2018). "'U.S. News' says it has shifted rankings to focus on social mobility, but has it?". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Gladwell, Malcolm (February 7, 2011). "The Trouble with College Rankings". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  10. ^ Morse, Robert; Brooks, Eric (September 12, 2021). "How U.S. News Calculated the 2022 Best Colleges Rankings". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved July 25, 2022.
  11. ^ Leiby, Richard (September 9, 2014). "The U.S. News college rankings guru". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Gnolek, Shari L.; Falciano, Vincenzo T.; Kuncl, Ralph W. (2014). "Modeling Change and Variation in U.S. News & World Report College Rankings: What would it really take to be in the Top 20?". Research in Higher Education. 55 (8): 761–779. doi:10.1007/s11162-014-9336-9. S2CID 144016491.
  13. ^ Hartocollis, Anemona (July 8, 2022). "Columbia Loses Its No. 2 Spot in the U.S. News Rankings". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  14. ^ Smith, Steve (September 19, 2013). "U.S. News Pulls Social Levers to Break Records for 'Best Colleges' Package". min Online. Archived from the original on January 23, 2015. Retrieved July 24, 2022.
  15. ^ a b Bowman, Nicholas A. and Bastedo, Michael N. (2009). "Getting on the Front Page: Organizational Reputation, Status Signals, and the Impact of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on Student Decisions" personal.umich.edu Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  16. ^ Bastedo, Michael N. and Bowman, Nicholas A. (2010). "The U.S. News & World Report College Rankings: Modeling Institutional Effects on Organizational Reputation" personal.umich.edu Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  17. ^ Luca, Michael; Smith, Jonathan (September 27, 2011). "Salience in Quality Disclosure: Evidence from the U.S. News College Rankings". Leadership and Management. Archived from the original on November 7, 2013. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  18. ^ Fitzpatrick, Laura (August 20, 2009). "Robert Morse: The Man Behind U.S. News College Rankings". TIME. Archived from the original on August 21, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  19. ^ Doug, Lederman (June 3, 2009). "'Manipulating,' Er, Influencing 'U.S. News'". Inside Higher Ed. Archived from the original on June 6, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  20. ^ Jaschik, Scott (March 19, 2007). "Should U.S. News Make Presidents Rich?". Inside Higher Ed. Archived from the original on March 22, 2007. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  21. ^ Hieb, Dan (August 17, 2010). "Vandy, Belmont fare well in U.S. News' best college rankings". Nashville Business Journal. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  22. ^ Christopher B. Nelson, "Why you won't find St. John's College ranked in U.S. News & World Report Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine", University Business: The Magazine for College and University Administrators.
  23. ^ Diver, Colin (November 1, 2005). "Is There Life After Rankings?". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  24. ^ Rojstaczer, Stuart (September 3, 2001). "College Rankings are Mostly About Money". San Francisco Chronicle.
  25. ^ "A Review of the Methodology for the U.S. News & World Report's Rankings of Undergraduate Colleges and Universities". Washington Monthly. 2000. Archived from the original on October 18, 2000. Retrieved January 31, 2004.
  26. ^ Thompson, Nicholas (August 3, 2003). "The Best, The Top, The Most". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 7, 2022.
  27. ^ Jaschik, Scott (June 20, 2007). "More Momentum Against 'U.S. News'". Inside Higher Ed.
  28. ^ "ANNAPOLIS GROUP STATEMENT ON RANKINGS AND RATINGS". Annapolis Group. June 19, 2007.
  29. ^ a b Morse, Robert (June 22, 2007). "About the Annapolis Group's Statement". U.S. News & World Report. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007.
  30. ^ Tolela Myers, Michele (March 11, 2007). "The Cost of Bucking College Rankings". The Washington Post.
  31. ^ Carey, Kevin. "College Rankings Reformed" (PDF). educationsector.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 23, 2009. Retrieved July 28, 2009.
  32. ^ Sacks, Peter (May 25, 2011). "America's Best College Scam". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  33. ^ "A Columbia Professor Takes the University to Task Over Rankings". The New York Times. March 23, 2022.

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