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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

U.S. News: The Most Overperforming and Underperforming Schools

U.S. News Old LogoRobert Morse (Director of Data Research, U.S. News), Which Ranked Universities Are Doing Better Than Their Academic Reputations?:

U.S. News is publishing a first-ever analysis of colleges in our National Universities ranking category that are overperforming or underperforming their undergraduate academic reputations in terms of their overall Best Colleges 2013 rankings. This concept measures the degree to which a university's overall position in the rankings exceeds or falls short of its undergraduate academic reputation rank. ...

The table below shows the top 15 overperforming schools in the National Universities ranking category, where a school's overall numerical rank in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings was better than the school's academic peer assessment rank by the largest number of ranking places.

School Overall Rank Peer Rank Overperformance
Adelphi University 155 213 +58
Ashland University 189 247 +58
University of St. Thomas 113 171 +58
Stevens Institute of Technology 75 134 +59
St. Mary's University of Minnesota 174 238 +64
Azusa Pacific University 179 247 +68
Edgewood College 179 247 +68
University of Tulsa 83 151 +68
Yeshiva University 46 118 +72
Biola University 174 247 +73
Andrews University 189 264 +75
St. John Fisher College 151 226 +75
South Carolina State University 147 226 +79
University of La Verne 165 247 +82
Maryville University (St. Louis) 160 247 +87

This table shows the top 15 underperforming schools in the National Universities ranking category, where a school's overall numerical rank in the 2013 Best Colleges rankings was less than the school's academic peer assessment rank by the largest number of ranking places.

School Overall Rank Peer rank Underperformance
Arizona State University 139 70 -69
University of Arizona 120 59 -61
University of Illinois—Chicago 147 94 -53
Virginia Commonwealth University 170 118 -52
University of Montana 199 151 -48
University of North Carolina—Charlotte 199 151 -48
University of Colorado—Boulder 97 51 -46
George Mason University 139 94 -45
University of New Mexico 179 134 -45
University of Oregon 115 70 -45
University of Utah 125 82 -43
University of Maryland (Baltimore) 160 118 -42
Indiana University—Bloomington 83 44 -39
University of Kansas 106 67 -39
University of Colorado (Denver) 189 151 -38

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Anybody notice anything that mostly sets the lists apart?

"University of..."

"...Taxpayer Subsidy and Outcome Unaccountability"

Put the word "public" in almost anything and it comes to resemble "public toilet".

Also notice the systemic bias in favor of the "reputation" of "public" schools:

Academic Peer Evaluator (Displaying deep intellectual analysis that scholars are known for...) - "Hey, I've heard of Arizona, Utah, and Maryland - they're states, right?"

continuing Academic Deep Think:

"What in the hell is an Ashland, Adelphi, or a Biola Yeshiva?!"

The Ivory Tower is in the very crappiest of hands.

Thank god they're backed up by government (cough, cough, HACK, cough, cough).

Among the cornerstones of American Ruin - the public is in hock to these hacks for about $1 trillion - because they are the gatekeepers for non-relevant knowledge needed to obtain jobs that no longer exist.

But government keeps making the loans easiest to get!

Posted by: cas127 | Dec 4, 2012 4:12:59 PM

This over-perform/under-perform ranking is absolutely meaningless. Can someone explain to me why this matters? What does this really tell us?

Posted by: HTA | Dec 4, 2012 4:43:08 PM

Actually, though the post leaves the impression that it's bad to be "underperforming", it's actually good. It means that a university's academic reputation is much better than the quality of its undergraduates. We at IU have long known this. We're in a smallish state with two large Big Ten public universities,so we have to dip a lot further down into the high school talent pool than Illinois and Ohio do. Yet we manage to match them in academic reputation.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Dec 4, 2012 5:27:49 PM


It's the difference between a non-representative peer rating by a small number of people who are barely familiar with the school, compared to a non-sensical index comprised of the peer ranking plus whatever junk U.S. News decides to include.

It's the difference between arbitrary ranking A and arbitrary ranking B.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 4, 2012 6:19:13 PM

Cas127, Yeshiva is a well-known institution. I don't follow your argument. You're under the impression that US News rankings actually tell you something about the quality of the school. They don't. The measure is primarily based on three things: (1)quality of inputs as measured by class rank, test scores, and selectivity, (2) amount spent (or some other variable ultimately tied to spending) and (3) reputation rank. If anything, perhaps I should recommend the "under-performing" schools because they seem to have solid reputations despite being outspent and having less talented inputs!

Posted by: HTA | Dec 4, 2012 6:27:25 PM

Professor Rasmussen's point is quite sensible, although it raises the followup question "actually good" for whom? Certainly actually good (at least in the short term) for incumbent faculty. Actually good for the undergrads if (but only if? - and obviously bracketing the question of whether the other inputs into the USNews formula mean anything) the "inflated" reputation actually provides them with better subsequent life opportunities by virtue of having the particular brand-name degree on their resume. One question there would be what the "academic peer assessment" is a good proxy for. It might be a decent proxy for how grad-school-admissions decisionmakers will view your credentials. It's not necessarily a very good proxy for how prospective employers will view your credentials - I think some rankings for e.g. law and business schools use separate reputation surveys among peer academics and prospective employers as separate inputs into their subjective/meaningless (if only because how you weight the different inputs is arbitrary) overall ranking results precisely because those two types of reputation surveys often don't yield the same results, but I don't have the sense that's being done here (and it's much obviously harder to do at the undergrad level especially since a given school's reputation with prospective employers may be very major-specific so an overall aggregate is less meaningful).

Posted by: JWB | Dec 5, 2012 12:29:50 PM

What this tells us is that there is considerable bias in the academic community. Some of that bias is clearly aimed a religious people. For example, three schools on that list (20%) I know well. They are all very conservative Christian universities. I believe several of the others would fall in the religious conservative category as well.

Posted by: mcallen | Dec 5, 2012 2:02:21 PM

I think what most of the "underperforming" schools have in common are well-known faculties (CU Boulder probably has more Nobel prize winners than all the "overperforming" schools combined), and a mission to serve a diverse, state-wide student population. They tend also to be large universities, which is going to increase the likelihood that they have marquee departments that enhance their repuations among their peers.

mcallen--there are a lot of schools affiliated with religious entities, so it is not surprising that any subgroup would include a large proportion of religious schools. Determining the validity of your bias claim requires comparison to the percentage of all similarly sized schools that are so affiliated.

cas127--you seem to have it wrong, which isn't surprising. The fact that the University of Kansas, for example, has a great reputation even though it's located in the intellectual wasteland that is Kansas is evidence that it, and government, are doing something right.

Posted by: Anonymous | Dec 5, 2012 6:49:45 PM