A look at some of the elements behind the U.S. News college rankings

Stephanie Hughes Sep 12, 2022
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Many parents rely on the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Getty Images

A look at some of the elements behind the U.S. News college rankings

Stephanie Hughes Sep 12, 2022
Heard on:
Many parents rely on the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Getty Images
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Today, the U.S. News and World Report released its lists of the country’s best colleges and universities. A lot of the names you’d expect to be there are there. Educational ranking systems like U.S. News have come under fire for over-valuing prestige and selectivity and because some schools have been found to submit inaccurate data, most recently Columbia University. Still, many students and parents rely on the rankings as they decide where to spend their tuition dollars.

University leaders want people to remember that colleges are not like football teams.

“I think we think these rankings are like win-loss records as opposed to aggregated data about a college,” said Nicole Hurd, president of Lafayette College in eastern Pennsylvania.

But because their customers – that is, the students and parents – pay attention to rankings, schools have to, as well.

“But I do think that we should really understand what goes into them, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what they’re measuring,” said Suzanne Rivera, president of Macalester College in St. Paul.

Things such as reputation. Twenty percent of the U.S. News assessment comes from peer reviews by other school leaders. When the rankings started in 1983, those were the only factor.

Now, U.S. News also considers things like graduation rate, and how much a school spends on each student.

Being ranked year after year makes college names more familiar to students. And Jennifer Jessie, an independent college admissions consultant in suburban D.C. said that matters even more with students looking for normalcy now.

“So to tell a student, ‘Hey, I know you’re about to take on a lot of debt, but I want you to consider this college that you’ve never heard of, that is probably a better fit.’ It’s very difficult,” she said.

Many of the students Jessie works with are Black, first generation college students, or have a disability. She said a ranking won’t tell them if they’ll thrive at a particular school.

Timothy Fields is the author of a new book called “The Black Family’s Guide to College Admission.” He also works at Emory University, and said lots of people he spoke with for the book value things the rankings won’t tell them.

“Most families, we found by and large wanted to know ‘How much does it cost for my child to go to school?’ ‘What’s the proximity to home?’ ‘Are they going to be safe?’”

U.S. News said its rankings are continuously evolving, and in an interview from July, CEO and executive chairman Eric Gertler said they should be a jumping-off point for families.

“When you’re undergoing what is undoubtedly, at that time, the most expensive financial decision you’re going to undertake, we want to make sure that you have the most comprehensive set of information to use,” he said.

Not all campuses are included in the college rankings lists. U.S. News evaluated 1,500 schools, all of which issue bachelors degrees – but there are about 4,000 degree-granting colleges in the U.S.

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