Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 30, 2023

WSJ: Rebellion Over U.S. News Rankings Seems Likely To Fail

Wall Street Journal, Rebellion Over College Rankings Seems Likely to Fail:

WSJIn the past two weeks, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia universities, the University of Pennsylvania and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai said they would stop cooperating with U.S. News & World Report’s medical-school rankings.

That followed the decision last year by universities including Yale, Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and California, Berkeley to quit cooperating on the publication’s law-school rankings.

Critics are cheering the exodus from a process they say leads students to focus on external prestige rather than education quality and encourages schools to game rankings at the expense of students. The schools that are withdrawing say the rankings are elitist, and penalize institutions that admit strong candidates without high test scores.

“In the 40 years of rankings, this is the biggest shock to the system—that gives me hope,” said Colin Diver, a former president of Reed College, which has long abstained from the U.S. News ranking. Mr. Diver is the author of “Breaking Ranks: How the Rankings Industry Rules Higher Education and What to Do About It.”

But hopes that this marks the death knell for college rankings are likely to be in vain. The reality is that what the schools themselves contribute to the rankings is relatively small: The data includes test scores, alumni giving, financial information and so on. But most of the data used to determine the rankings can be derived from publicly available information, or surveys conducted by U.S. News itself. Indeed, U.S. News has revised the survey over the years in response to criticism. There is a case to be made that the less the schools contribute, the more objective the rankings might become, in some respects. ...

On the one hand, relying on public data makes U.S. News’s rankings somewhat less distinctive. ... In a written statement, a spokeswoman for U.S. News said it would continue to rank law schools by drawing on the voluminous data that law schools are required to make available to the American Bar Association, “whether or not schools respond to our annual survey.”  ...

By switching to public data, the rankings might lose some indicators, but the data that remains might be more reliable because schools have less opportunity to influence the rankings with incorrect information. Last year, Columbia dropped from second place to 18th in the undergraduate rankings after a math professor discovered the university had submitted false information. A former dean of the business school at Temple University was sentenced to 14th months in prison for fraud after submitting falsified data for the M.B.A. rankings. ...

Would students have a better experience if they considered what they really wanted out of a college—beyond its ranking? Probably. But will applicants begin to ignore publicly available compilations of how their schools rank? Probably not anytime soon.

U.S. News coverage:


U.S. News Response to Boycott

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