Jun 24, 2011

Who Likes the USNWR Rankings?

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently released survey findings on attitudes among college admissions professionals toward the US News & World Report (USNWR) undergraduate rankings publication. And not much was too surprising.

According to NACAC,

  • Most college counseling professionals (including high school counselors and admissions officers) don’t like the USNWR rankings.

  • Public schools and institutions tend to view the rankings slightly better than private schools and institutions.

  • College counseling professionals believe the title “America’s Best Colleges” does not accurately represent the information contained within the USNWR publication.

  • USNWR methodology is a little suspect particularly with regard to data collected in the areas of peer assessment, student selectivity, and alumni giving.

  • Despite apparent distain, colleges use rankings to market themselves and promote their ranking as part of a marketing strategy.

  • Admissions officers acknowledge that rankings encourage counterproductive behavior among colleges.

  • More than 90 percent of colleges believe rankings put pressure on institutions to invest in strategies to maintain or improve their rankings.

Although painting a generally negative portrait of the USNWR rankings, NACAC reports that college counseling professionals believe specific data points provide useful information in college assessment. Among these are measures of financial resources, faculty resources, graduation rate performance, and overall graduation and retention rates.

In an open ended response question, the survey collected information about other concepts or data points they feel might be important in assessing institutional quality. Among these were surveys of student experience (National Survey of Student Engagement), student services, student outcomes, faculty quality, and few miscellaneous measures such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment, the diversity of the student body, the amount of financial aid distributed, the safety of the campus, and the variety of programs or majors offered.

In general, professionals in the field of college counseling worry that students and families don’t fully understand the ranking methodology. Because the methodology changes from year to year, there is concern the rankings are unstable and cannot be compared over time.

There was also the suggestion that some colleges, particularly name-brand private institutions, are unfairly favored by the USNWR formula, and that rankings are based too heavily on measures that are subjective and biased. And possibly most telling, respondents pointed out that there is little statistical difference between schools and by placing colleges in ordinal rank USNWR “creates the illusion of differences where there are none.”

So who likes the USNWR rankings? Not too many professionals actually working in the field of college admissions.

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